(A continuation of previous correspondence).
Thanks for your letter. I have to say it is refreshing to be able to discuss this topic without sarcasm or put downs. I appreciate your intelligence and seriousness.
I want to begin by apologizing for taking so long to reply. I could point to the celebrations of Guadalupe, Christmas, my 25th anniversary, etc. However, I think the deeper problem has to do with difficulty of the questions you pose. As you noted it is hard to sort out the concepts of natural, artificial, passive, active, etc.
I have to admit I was even tempted to say, "well, it come downs to faith." The teaching does have the authority of the Magisterium beginning with the Fathers and extending through Pius XI to Paul VI and now John Paul II. But that same magisterium says it is part of the natural law and therefore can be demonstrated by reason. So with the caution that a Catholic must accept this teaching even if his reason goes against it, let's see if we can get any further using natural arguments.
First let me concede that artificial is not bad in itself. We're using a pretty artificial means of communication right now and I like it. It has real advantages. The Internet not only allows you and I to communicate over a great distance, but it stores the data of our exchange and makes it available to many other people. We have an ability to extend ourselves, our message, in a way St. Paul would have envied.
Still, even though the Internet is good, there are obviously better forms of communication. With the telephone we could hear the tone of each others voice and get quick clarification. But even better would be face to face conversation. Our facial expressions and "body language" would express volumes. The improvement in question is to move from artificial to natural.
Natural is almost always superior. I had some fresh squeezed orange juice when I was down in Peru and I can guarantee you it was better than anything I could make from a concentrate. But best of all (as far as nutrition) is the inner orange itself, pulp and all.
Regarding marital relations I believe you and I are in agreement on what is the most "natural" (or simply the best): one which expresses full life-time commitment to the other person and is open to making a baby. This is not some lofty ideal, but like face to face conversation and fresh oranges, is actually achieved. (This achievement of course is dynamic; it involves hard work and grace to maintain it.) I've talked with couples who use natural family planning and they have shared with me the incredible joy they felt knowing they were making loving at the peak time of fertility. They knew this because even when they made love during infertile times they had to be conscious of their fertility. They did not suppress it, they did not block it, they did not destroy it. (Or like Onan try to cast it aside.)
It seems to me it is that constant affirmation (appreciation) of fertility that makes NFP the best. Perhaps "active" and "passive" are possible words to describe this difference. I would rather apply active to NFP because it involves an attentiveness, a concentration which the other methods simply do not require. Once the pill is taken, communication and self control become optional. Norplant and the IUD are even more passive. Sterilization removes the future need to face the issue. Abortion is called a choice, but doesn’t it simply flow from a failure to embrace one’s fertility?
I know, Ken, you are not arguing for abortion. In fact you clearly see that even certain methods of birth control are themselves actually abortifacients. I would argue that any method which denies or blocks fertility opens the couple to abortion if an unexpected pregnancy results. The Guttmacher Institute's own study showed that a high percentage of women who had abortion were using artificial birth control in the month before they got pregnant. Of the other women it did not consider the radical difference between "no birth control" and fertility appreciation.
Fertility appreciation, of course, is tied to the command to "be fertile, fill the earth." The population alarmists you refer to would say the earth is already full, too full. We have to ask, "By what standard?" In ancient times Roman orators predicted dire consequences from "overpopulation." That was when the earth's inhabitants numbered a fraction of what we do today. Peru's poverty is sometimes blamed on it having too many people, yet at 22 million it is much more sparsely populated than prosperous France (twice as many people, one half the area of Peru). Need I mention the example of Hong Kong? A huge number, packed in a small space, lifted themselves from poverty to prosperity and became a magnet for thousands of others.
But let's just ask about our own country. Should married couples in United States be more "fruitful?" The state of our Social Security system gives us a clue. When it was founded there were sixteen workers for every retired person. Today there are three. In the year I become eligible (2011) there will be only two. The sinking Social Security system is a symptom of something really wrong in our society. What's wrong is ignoring God's original command. Our young people have been convinced that having more than two children is socially irresponsible, but really the opposite is the case.
One of the things I miss most about Peru is the vitality of its youthful population (average age 20 as compared to 32 here). But even there population growth is dropping drastically. Assuming that population control is in the best interest of poor countries, the U.S. Agency for International Development has flooded Peru with contraceptive devices--principally the IUD, but also the pill and condoms. Doctors and nurses who provide family planning "services" (tubal ligation and vascectomy) are the highest paid.
When I went to visit my old parish, I talked with one of the young mothers. She complained about a pain in her abdomen. After some conversation I learned that health officials had come to her village to convince her and other women to have their tubes tied. Local doctors are given great economic incentives to sterilize as many women as possible. Along with this well financed delivery system there is a media campaign which connects birth control with prosperity, ecology, women's liberation, happy families, etc. And it is very effective. Still one has to ask, Is population control really the best thing for a country like Peru that is so far from filling its own territory?
On a more positive side I had a visit from a young couple with four young children. It was beautiful seeing the older ones take care of their little brother, even carrying him through the snow. The parents won't be able to give their kids so many things, but don't you agree they have given them the best gift of all?
Now, how clear does God need to be in telling us all this? The Bible does not declare directly that abortion is a sin. Still, most Christians are rightly convinced it is included in the commandment prohibiting taking innocent human life. While the Bible does not denounce contraception in so many words, we can deduce it from a number of biblical principles. (Charles D. Provan mentions nine such principles in his book "The Bible and Contraception.") The importance of the Church Fathers in interpreting the Bible is that they were closer temporally and culturally to the mind of the biblical authors than we modern men can ever be. Fr. Raymond Brown has made great use of this fact in his commentary on St. John's Gospel and Epistles.
Ken, I have taken some length to respond to your questions. There is certainly a lot more to be said. Perhaps you would like to again sharpen the focus of this a bit. I have received a few comments. An e-mail from Art Lytle, offers a helpful link.
I would like to conclude this letter with a question for you. How do we avoid falling into moral relativism? You rightly identify it as the central problem of our time. I sense you want to establish a core of moral principles based on the Bible and not add anything unnecessary. But to me the teaching we are discussing is a lynch pin. If we remove it, the whole structure falls. And the authority necessary to define that structure is swept away as well. What do you think?
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Phil Bloom
Your comments or questions are welcome.