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Contraception

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  • benhartmail
    Howdy, Two preliminary remarks before I get to the issue of contraception. First, I am unsure whether this is off-topic for the CRC, but seeing as we can talk
    Message 1 of 54 , Oct 3, 2008
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      Howdy,

      Two preliminary remarks before I get to the issue of contraception.
      First, I am unsure whether this is off-topic for the CRC, but seeing
      as we can talk about the demise of the RPNA ad nauseum, as well as
      whether one is a Jesuit or not for taking a slightly different view
      on the papacy, I figured this one should make it in. If not, Jerry,
      feel free to delete it.

      Second, while I am going to send a link to a document written from an
      explicitly Roman Catholic point of view, I myself am not an RC, nor
      am I sympathetic with their distinctives. But I do find the below
      article an interesting piece for discussion which it would do many
      protestants well to take seriously.

      That said, I want to suggest that those who are interested in doing
      so undertake a discussion of this (almost) classic article on
      contraception by Elizabeth Anscombe. Here is a link to it.

      http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.shtml

      I need to write a research paper on this issue for a natural law
      seminar so I thought some discussion with you all would be
      profitable. If it would be helpful, I can post a summary of
      Anscombe's arguments sometime in the next few days for those who are
      interested but don't have the time to read the whole thing.

      But to whet your appetite, here's a quick summary: after giving a
      historical case against contraception, she argues that people who
      find activities like homosexuality, masturbation, etc. unnatural
      should also find contraception unnatural. Her reason is that the
      intentional use of contraception changes the kind of act one engages
      in, turning it into the kind of act one could have outside of a
      marriage relationship, one that is intentionally infertile.
      (However, she maintains that this isn't inconsistent with the rhythm
      method (obviously keeping in line with RC teaching).) Because all
      the previously mentioned sexual deviations are deliberately
      infertile, they are no different than contraceptive copulation.
      Putting her conclusion another way, the use of contraception would be
      no different than obviously unnatural acts like coitus in vase
      indebitum, even done in the context of marriage.

      Also, for the more ambitious (who have the time), here is a short
      piece on natural law (seeing as Anscombe cites it in her argument).

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/natural-law-ethics/

      I hope that (at least) some of you will find this edifying.

      Regards,
      Ben
    • Ben Hart
      Edgar, Sorry for the delay in responding. I have a big test coming up this week that has taken some of my time. As for your objection, I think you actually
      Message 54 of 54 , Oct 12, 2008
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        Edgar,
         
        Sorry for the delay in responding.  I have a big test coming up this week that has taken some of my time.
         
        As for your objection, I think you actually began answering it yourself when you brought up the role of God's grace in helping men to understand revelation.  But let me start at the beginning with making something a little more explicit than I did in my original email.  I hold (but I've not looked at other people on this) that any bit of God's revelation is of equal authority with other bits, whether it is found in nature, conscience, or language (written or spoken).  The only thing that distinguishes them is the mode and the clarity that tends to accompany the mode.  So the spoken word is perhaps the clearest because that is what we are accustomed to in the giving and receiving of information and it can be precise as to intended referents and such; God's revelation in the celestial bodies is less clear in that it may only suggest a wise, powerful creator.  However, each one is equally as authoritative in itself. 
         
        But you ask me, doesn't this position make man's reason the final authority?  Let's be clear on what "final" and "reason" mean here.  Is his reason to be understood as the use of his cognitive faculties or as something stronger?  If it's just the use of his faculties, then anything whatsoever that comes into the mind does so by that means, and if that's problematic for you, then even your understanding of Scripture--even if mediated by the Holy Spirit--has to pass the test of your reason since the Holy Spirit will have to work by means of your faculties.  But why should that understanding of reason be a problem?  When I perceive an apple by means of my perceptual abilities, am I in some sense authoritative over whether I believe that there is an apple in front of me?  I hardly think so.  I may be able to convince myself that it is not an apple (for some insane reason) but in the normal course of things, it is the apple that is authoritative over my present cognitive state. 
         
        As for being the "final" authority, I think the only thing final about the use of my faculties to distinguish truth from falsity is that it is the last in the order of causality.  My faculties certainly make a judgment that what I am seeing is an apple as opposed to a snail, but that's just because they've been hooked up causally to the apple in the right way and have been designed to distinguish one thing from another.  You may think that there is a difference in an immediate judgment of perception and an inferential conclusion that some principle is part of the natural law, and that the use of inference is more of a problem because it requires the use of the will and thereby comes to judge whether something is the case.  However, insofar as the principles of natural law are first principles, there can be no reasoning to them, or else the premises from which we argued to get to the (supposed) first principles would themselves be the first principles.  So how do we come to believe in the first principles?  Something like perception, by means of faculties that have been designed to apprehend certain principles.  The medievals (and many of the reformers following the medievals) made a distinction between the conscience and the synderesis, holding that the conscience was the faculty that apprehended the first principles, and the synderesis was the sort of "storehouse" of the first principles of practical reasoning (i.e. of the natural law).  (This stuff is horribly messy, so don't ask me to go into it here.)
         
        The upshot so far is that if we understand the faculties by which we ascertain the principles of the natural law as perceptual (or perceptual-like) faculties that have been designed to "perceive" the principles, then there should be no worry about man's reason being the final authority.  But the other part of your objection is this: but if all men have these abilities/faculties, what do you make of the heathen who do all sorts of bad stuff that clearly contradicts the natural law? 
        And this is where I think you started to answer the question for yourself.  First, we all understand that there are noetic effects of sin, and those effects darken the mind of man.  Moreover, these effects need to be overcome for man to understand any revelation from God, natural or special.  So it should be no surprise that these same people would get lots of stuff wrong, including the rejection of Scripture. 
         
        The position that I've been defending is roughly in agreement with Alvin Plantinga's in Warranted Christian Belief.  If you'd like I can try to come up with a few articles he's written that directly deal with this since WCB is a huge book that would take forever to read.  Let me know if you want something and I'll see what I can come up with.
         
        Finally, you mention the bad stuff about the heathen philosophers.  Sure, I could go on about their mistakes.  I certainly don't think that pride is a virtue, that the planets are living beings, that it is impetus that keeps objects in motion, or that the man provides the form of a life while the woman the matter of a baby (to name a few).  But that doesn't take away from their virtues.  There was good sense in much of what they said, as there is in the contemporary pagans, whom we would do well to glean from. 
         
        If all I've been able to do is successfully argue that there is a place in Christianity for philosophy, then great.  You don't have to buy all of what the ancient philosophers had to say--I sure don't!  But it's a mistake to think that Scripture is the 1 and only guide for how we should live our lives.  (Even though I've qualified this idea above, I'll do so again so there is no ambiguity--Scripture is the clearest revelation on the matters with which it deals.  If it is silent on something, there may be other sources to which we can look for guidance which may take more work to understand.) 
         
        And for your contemplation, I'll leave you with a quote from St. Augustine's Confessions.  Note that he is getting writings of the Platonists: people like Plotinus and Porphyry (though most think he's reading Porphyry, not Plotinus here) and he says they agree in substance with Scripture, but Scripture gives a better understanding of what the Platonists (of what we would now call the neoPlatonists) taught.  This is from Confessions 7.13-14
         
        13. And first of all, willing to show me how thou dost "resist the proud, but give grace to the humble,"and how mercifully thou hast made known to men the way of humility in that thy Word "was made flesh and dwelt among men,"thou didst procure for me, through one inflated with the most monstrous pride, certain books of the Platonists, translated from Greek into Latin. And therein I found, not indeed in the same words, but to the selfsame effect, enforced by many and various reasons that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." That which was made by him is "life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shined in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." Furthermore, I read that the soul of man, though it "bears witness to the light," yet itself "is not the light; but the Word of God, being God, is that true light that lights every man who comes into the world." And further, that "he was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  But that "he came unto his own, and his own received him not. And as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believed on his name"--this I did not find there.
         

        14. Similarly, I read there that God the Word was born "not of flesh nor of blood, nor of the will of man, nor the will of the flesh, but of God." But, that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us"--I found this nowhere there. And I discovered in those books, expressed in many and various ways, that "the Son was in the form of God and thought it not robbery to be equal in God," for he was naturally of the same substance. But, that "he emptied himself and took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him" from the dead, "and given him a name above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"--this those books have not. I read further in them that before all times and beyond all times, thy only Son remaineth unchangeably coeternal with thee, and that of his fullness all souls receive that they may be blessed, and that by participation in that wisdom which abides in them, they are renewed that they may be wise. But, that "in due time, Christ died for the ungodly" and that thou "sparedst not thy only Son, but deliveredst him up for us all"--this is not there. "For thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes"; that they "that labor and are heavy laden" might "come unto him and he might refresh them" because he is "meek and lowly in heart." "The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way; beholding our lowliness and our trouble and forgiving all our sins." But those who strut in the high boots of what they deem to be superior knowledge will not hear Him who says, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls." Thus, though they know God, yet they do not glorify him as God, nor are they thankful. Therefore, they "become vain in their imaginations; their foolish heart is darkened, and professing themselves to be wise they become fools."

        All the best,
        Ben
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