Ross Douthat does yeoman’s work explaining the Catholic take on birth control to us heathen, and explaining our heathen obstinacy to the Catholics.
Douthat argues the case about as rationally and well as it can be argued. There is a lot there for the Latter-day Saint to consider. Indeed, it seems to me that the one sticky point of disagreement between Cathlics and ourselves is over what Douthat himself acknowledges is splitting hairs: Using a “natural” birth control method rather than barrier or pharmaceutical methods with much lower failure rates.
One you conceded that sexuality within marriage can legitimately serve a purpose other than conception, it seems to me that the hair splitting becomes unnecessary, and so Douthat can’t quite endorse the idea of sex other than for conception. There always has to be at least a bare possibility of conception, an attitude for which “natural” birth control is admirably suitable. The question is whether this is a feature or a bug. Douthat ultimately has to fall back on the authority of his Church for the answer to that question, an act of faith I cannot justly criticize.
In fairness, fallen man fails to grasp that that the other legitimate purpose of sexuality is not pleasure for its own sake; it is the bonding between husband and wife that is necessary for those stages of reproduction that lie beyond the moment of conception. Both couples who have sex without children and couples who have children and discontinue sex miss this point, to their likely ultimate great sorrow.
Of course, as with His Holiness, my pontifications on birth control are divorced from any ongoing personal experience. As I’ve admitted here before, I am now quite sterile. Both in the narrow literal sense and in a broad spiritual sense. I regret that very much, but no acceptable solution has presented itself.
Unlike His Holiness, I have experienced the consequences of an unexpected failure of birth control. I suppose my experience could be an argument against ineffective birth control, but it could equally well be an argument against deliberately unfruitful marriage.
His Majesty has never had children. Like many an academic, he claims his apprentices are all the family he needs. Considering the fate of the first two, that doesn’t seem persuasive.
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