- Hi Edgar,
I appreciate your worry about mercy towards a spouse. In fact, my wife
and I were discussing this very issue recently, and we are working
hard to see if there are any exceptions where the rhythm method might
be justified for the sake of mercy. We're finding it very difficult to
justify, and here's why. (We may not be covering all bases, of course.
That's why discussions like these are helpful. Perhaps someone will
suggest a new strategy for dealing with these kinds of cases. You'll
see what I mean in a second.)
So far as I can tell, you and I are on the same general page. There is
something like a general prohibition of contraception. You, however,
admit exceptions to the rule for a very narrow set of cases where
pregnancies can cause great harm to the woman (e.g., very severe pain,
life-threatening complications, etc.). Now, there are different things
that can justify exceptions to moral rules, and the question I'm
interested in is this: do any of these ways of introducing exceptions
apply to the mercy cases you're interesting in? Let's look:
1. Some people justify exceptions to moral rules by appealing to the
principle of double effect. The principle of double effect says that
it is morally permissible to do something that one knows has both a
good and a bad effect supposing that the following conditions are met:
a. Only the good effect is intended or desired,
b. The good effect isn't brought about by means of the bad effect
(i.e., the ends don't justify the means),
c. There is a proportionately grave reason for bringing about the bad
effect (e.g., we can't brush our teeth with lethal poison so that they
have a nicer shine; the need for shinier teeth isn't a serious enough
need to warrant doing something that will kill me).
Examples help to clarify how we use the principle of double effect.
Since I've already mentioned a soldier diving on a grenade, this might
be a good example to illustrate this principle. When a soldier dives
on a grenade to save his buddies, there are two effects: he saves his
buddy and he dies. One of these effects is good and the other is bad.
Ordinarily, it would be sinful to kill oneself, but not in this case.
Why? Well, because the good effect wasn't brought about by the bad
effect (condition 'b' above), the good effect was important enough to
produce that it made the bad effect acceptable (condition 'c' above),
and the soldier didn't dive on the grenade because he wanted to
die--he primarily intended/desired to save his buddies (condition 'a'
above). In other words, the principle of double-effect accounts for
the lawfulness of diving on the grenade.
Now, it important to notice that the principle of double-effect is a
way of making exceptions to general moral principles. Killing oneself
is generally immoral, but not in cases when the principle of
double-effect applies. Since you are interested in making exceptions
to the general rule that contraception is bad, we can examine the
possibility by considering the conditions that govern the application
of the principle of double-effect. Let's try this.
Here's an imaginary although paradigmatic complication that people
think should justify the use of contraception: if the woman is
guaranteed to die from the pregnancy, then--if contraception is ever
lawful--it is lawful for this purpose. (This is an imaginary case
because we never have guarantees about the future in cases like this
one.) Now, since there is a general rule that says that deliberately
making sex infertile is bad (this is the supposition about which you
and I agree), we need to argue that this 'bad' is so bad that it
justifies the good of saving one's wife. This seems like a clear case
where the principle of double-effect might apply. Does it? Let's look
at the three conditions above.
It is clearly possible to use contraception desiring only to help the
mother survive, possibly even lamenting the fact that sex is now
infertile. Accordingly, it is possible to meet the first condition
(condition 'a' above).
Furthermore, it certainly seems like the certainty of death might is a
serious enough evil to justify preventing the conception of a new life
that doesn't yet exist. Accordingly, it seems that we can meet the
third condition (condition 'c' above).
The problem is the second condition. Conception itself doesn't kill
the mother. Instead, what kills the mother is the development of the
baby and the changes in her body that accompany pregnancy.
Consequently, the good effect of saving the woman is actually brought
about by the bad effect of preventing conception. This probably needs
to be developed a bit. Here's a case where contraception may very well
be justified by the principle of double-effect: if we know that a
mother will explode and die at the very a sperm reaches the jelly coat
of the ovum (this happens just before conception), then we might be
justified in using 'contraception' (e.g., the rhythm method--other
forms are more contentious) by the principle of double-effect. After
all, the good effect of a woman's not exploding is not brought about
by the bad effect of preventing conception. Instead, it just happens
to be the case that preventing conception happens when we prevent her
from exploding. (Sudden human explosions are, after all, very
undesirable, supposing we love the person who explodes.) In this case,
I might be able to meet all three conditions for the application of
the principle of double-effect. Someone might say that we don't meet
condition 'c' above, but we can set that worry to the side for now. It
is sufficient for this discussion to point out how condition 'b' can
be met so that it is clear that, in real-life cases, condition 'b'
isn't met at all. In real-life cases, the good effect of saving the
mother is brought about by the bad effect of preventing conception.
Now, there is a difficulty with my claims so far. Specifically, is
'preventing conception' really the bad effect in real-life cases?
After all, the woman wouldn't have conceived every time she had sex
without contraception. Perhaps the bad effect is the possibility of
preventing conception. But making something bad possible isn't always
bad, is it? What if I decide to skydive for entertainment? I make a
sudden death possible. Is making that possible really a morally evil?
Probably not. I suspect we would think differently, though, if I
decided to skydive so that I make the possibility of sudden death
actual supposing the parachute fails. In other words, if I said, "I'm
going skydiving because I want to die if my parachute fails," many of
you (though not all, perhaps!) would discourage me from skydiving.
There is something ordinarily evil about this. Accordingly, I think
the evil that is brought about the use of contraception is something
like this: the deliberate making possible the prevention of conception
so that conception would not happen supposing it otherwise would have.
(If you find a less clumsy way of putting that sentence, I would be
grateful to hear it.) This paragraph probably isn't that important,
but some might be interested in it because they may have considered
the worry it addresses.
2. Moving on. The second way someone might defend adding an exception
to the no-contraception law might involve rejecting the need to meet
condition 'b' on the principle of double-effect. Specifically, someone
may say that there are cases where a good justifies using an evil
means to accomplish the good. As Christians, though, I think this is
That said, these are the two ways to make exceptions to general moral
laws, but neither allows us to make exceptions to the general
no-contraception law (supposing there is one). If I am missing a
strategy for introducing exceptions to general moral laws, I would be
glad to hear of it. In the meantime, I can't think of a reason to
justify an exception to the no-contraception law.
--- In email@example.com, "Ic Neltococayotl"
> Well my brother, let me say that I am still gung ho about the
> Westminster Standards and other profitable Reformed Standards and know
> that while Scripture is our only rule for faith and practice, man made
> works have their profitable place.
> As for natural law and revelation, I fully recognize that God has
> instituted it and is His law and revelation, but we humans with our
> fallen natures skew it very badly...heck many humans do it to God's
> revealed will and law (the Bible)...so I know that His natural law and
> revelation has its place...2nd after His revealed will and law.
> As for my view of contraception...it is a bit complicated I guess...this
> is what I mean:
> 1. I am convinced that God has declared that mankind (regardless of
> religious belief) is to multiply and be fruitful---creation mandate.
> 2. I am convinced by the Word of God that marriage is the only
> condition / state wherein mankind can engage in procreation which of
> course includes sex.
> 3. I am convinced by the Word of God that sex itself with one's spouse
> is to be pleasureable, desirable, passionate, engaging of all one's
> functioning senses. Song of Solomon is very vivid about that! Of course
> NATURAL revelation bears this out fully.
> 4. That SEX is to continue even though procreation is not possible. I
> heard some state (while I was in the RPNA) that sex should stop if
> procreation is not possible and to "lust" or desire one's spouse was
> sinful. I thought that was insane and opens wide the door to potential
> sins. 1 Cor. 7:5 screams that one should have sex for the very reason
> to satisfy that NATURAL desire of being intimate with one's spouse, lest
> you fall into Satanic temptation.
> 5. Is all contraception sinful? That is the main thrust of this whole
> thread. That depends, is my answer. If one of the spouses or both,
> have such a medical condition that pregnancy can cost them their lives
> then it is better to preserve that one life than to lose one or even two
> lives. This is different than abortion in my opinion...which as recent
> quotes of the ancients alluded to (they were referring to
> abortion)...because abortion is the termination of ACTUAL life. Yes I
> know, contraception is the PREVENTION of life. Yet, as I stated before,
> marriage is not ONLY about procreation, it is also about intimacy. If a
> spouse cannot procreate due to some condition, then that should not
> prevent the other blessed role of marriage, namely sexual intimacy.
> Sometimes I think that those goof balls that state that marriage is only
> for procreation, must have a stoic and "sterile" procreation time! What
> you can't enjoy each other? Man, read the Bible. If your wife wants to
> dress sexy for YOU, then let her. If you want to be romantic and spice
> up the mood with certain moves...er...candles, roses, you married people
> who aren't stoic know what I mean...then do it. Wine and dine her,
> dude! Sex, that should continue until that can no longer be
> accomplished for X reason. I think in the end it is a decision that
> only a couple can make and that others need to butt out of.
> WE SHOULD NOT VIEW OUR WIVES AS BREEDERS.
> 6. While we were in the RPNA, my wife told me that someone actual asked
> her why she wasn't pregnant again (I think it was about 2 yrs after we
> had our 5th child). When my wife told me that, I asked her who it was,
> but sensing my anger she did not want to tell me. This happened one
> more time after that! Now, I ask who in the world did they think that
> they could ask such a question!!?? Yeah, I was pissed off when she told
> me that! No more comment on this to avoid sin.
> 7. I think contraception for selfish reasons (like I want to finish
> school first or launch my career) is sinful. See the creation mandate.
> But for other reasons of mercy, I do not. Pain is part of the fall of
> man. We all experience it. Yet mankind has found ways to mitigate it.
> We have Tylenol, advil, morphine, etc. Should we not take advantage of
> such to avoid pain...pain that we deserve as sinners in order to receive
> what we deserve? I don't think so. I think we should take advantage of
> such, if we want to. The same is my view of contraception in the act of
> mercy towards one's spouse.
> Pleasure being limited...? Naw, I don't think most Christians would go
> for that. Such a pill would be a hard swallow...
> I stop here...before I get booted out,
> --- In firstname.lastname@example.org, Jerry
> <ragingcalvinist@> wrote:
> > I freely confess that I have no Scripture to back up my claim that the
> > Reformed Presbyterian Catechism has a nice section dealing with
> > and moral law.
> > :-)
> > I do hope that this discussion can move past the initial introductory
> > peeing contest, and become somewhat more substantial soon. As an
> > observer, I'm interested in this topic being fleshed out some more.
> > Question for you Edgar,
> > You and Larry have offered Scripture, but are you and Larry in
> > on the application of the Scripture?
> > Also, some of the questions you bring up below... do they have to do
> > with anything that was actually affirmed by anyone? I must have
> > where anyone affirmed sex during menopause was wrong, or that
> > procreation is the only reason for the marriage bed.
> > Here's a thought that popped into my mind... If the marriage bed is
> > intended (as is manifest to all) to be a pleasing of the spouse and a
> > means of procreation, then what would happen if we approach things
> > differently?
> > Suppose it was the philosophy of the day to limit the pleasure of the
> > marriage bed (rather than to limit the fruitfullness of it), and so
> > scientists invented a pill that would make sex unpleasurable (though
> > fertility would be unaffected). I wonder if Christians would defend
> > such a thing, or speak out against such a thing. And I wonder what
> > those arguments would look like.
> > gmw.
> > Ic Neltococayotl wrote:
> > >
> > > So far Larry and I are the only ones to cite Scripture to back up
> > > claims. Others have appealed to man...worse some have appealed to
> > > Philosophers that our Reformers called rubbish (yes Aristotle's
> > > philosophy is the backbone to the entire Popish system of their
> > > and if I recall correctly Calvin and others considered his
> > > rubbish).
> > >
> > > Where in Scripture does it say that a married couple cannot have sex
> > > during the wife's pregnancy?
> > >
> > > It prohibits sex during the "woman's time".
> > >
> > > Where does Scripture speak against sex during menopause?
> > >
> > > It does prohibit being apart for a very long time.
> > >
> > > Where in Scripture does it state that procreation is the only goal
> > > marriage?
> > >
> > > Scripture states that fulfilling sexual desires that humans
> > > have as being another reason besides procreation.
> > >
> > > Folks deal with Scripture instead of patronizing and insulting one
> > > another. Appeal to man second.
> > >
> > > Yes, I would rather hear Reformed men or writings over against
> > > if both address a particular moral situation. I guess most
> > > are negated thereby...too bad so sad.
> > >
> > > Pro-Christian philosophy,
> > >
> > > Edgar
> > >
> > > --- In email@example.com
> > > <mailto:covenantedreformationclub%40yahoogroups.com>, "Kevin"
> > > globachio@ wrote:
> > > >
> > > > From: benhartmail
> > > > When someone claims that contraception isn't 'natural', and they
> > > > don't have a Scripture passage to cite saying "contraception is
> > > > sinful", you can't simply write-off this individual's claim.
> > > > Unnatural acts are condemned by Scripture, too. Notice that Paul
> > > > willing to condemn homosexuality on the grounds that it
> > > > is 'unnatural' in Romans 1. If unnatural acts aren't immoral
> > > > because they are unnatural, then Romans 1 doesn't make an ounce of
> > > > sense. What's my point? Something can be sinful and immoral even
> > > > it isn't explicitly condemned in Scripture, supposing it is
> > > > unnatural. Accordingly, if someone has developed an argument that
> > > > contraception is unnatural, then--if that argument is sound--
> > > > Christians are sinning to make use of contraception.
> > > >
> > > > However, I have recently been taught that pregnancy IS artificial
> > > contraception. I have been bested by sheer logic and consistent
> > > reasoning.
> > > >
> > > > Kevin
> > > >
> > >
> > >
> > > No virus found in this incoming message.
> > > Checked by AVG - http://www.avg.com
> > > Version: 8.0.138 / Virus Database: 270.7.6/1709 - Release Date:
> 10/5/2008 9:20 AM
> > >
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> > Checked by AVG - http://www.avg.com
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> 10/5/2008 9:20 AM
- 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 7.13-1413. 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