Sunday, July 27, 2008

Self Discipline or Birth Control? Neither Works

Amid the raging debate on artificial methods of birth control, Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales’s advice to all married couples is to exercise more “self-discipline” and “self-control” in bed.

In his message to the Catholic flock at Friday’s prayer rally marking the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical on the Regulation of Birth or Humanae Vitae, Rosales said the lack of discipline in the marital bed rebounds on other aspects of life.

Because life should be valued and its creation is a serious matter, “there should be discipline and self-control” between couples, the prelate said in Filipino.

Couples who have the discipline to practice the Church-sanctioned natural family planning methods are “in possession of true values of life” and tend to pass it on to their children. They also tend to be good citizens, he said.

“If there is discipline in the marital bed, then there is discipline in the streets, there is discipline in schools, there is discipline in the government,” he added.

The Catholic community held a massive gathering at the University of Santo Tomas parade grounds on Friday to reaffirm their commitment to Humanae Vitae, which prohibits artificial contraceptives on grounds that they deliberately impeded life, and to denounce a proposal in the House of Representatives to create a national reproductive health policy.

The Catholic Church approves only of natural family planning methods, which entail close observation of a woman's temperature and discharges, to determine her fertile days. Couples who practice natural contraception methods avoid having sex when the woman is fertile.
In his message, the Manila archbishop said the Catholic Church will fight for the “defenseless” fetus.

According to Rosales, anyone who halts the life of an unborn child can be likened to Herod, the king who ordered the massacre of infants after Christ was born.
“Wherever this happens, in the clinics, health centers, or hospitals, ending the life of a child inside a mother’s womb is a repeat of Herod’s massacre of the innocents… and a Herod could be your neighbor,” he said.

Meanwhile, in opposition to the Catholic Church’s hard-line stance against contraceptives, an evangelical group on Saturday said it supported artificial birth control methods because of the “alarming growth of our population.”

While the Bible tells mankind to multiply, it also has specific instructions for humanity to care and protect all of creation, the board of the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) said in a statement.

“About 5,800 babies are born daily.… One doesn’t have to be an economist to tally how much more food, water, shelter, medicine, and other resources will be needed for their support. At the [present] growth rate, there will be 100 million Filipinos by 2013,” the group said.
To ignore this problem is a “totally irresponsible” decision, the group said, given the high cost of living in the country.

“The present uncontrolled population growth over these many years has undeniably contributed to, and accelerated the poor getting poorer, and has led to thousands of abortions, unnecessary maternal deaths, thousands of abandoned children, increase of street dwellers, among other ills of society,” the PCEC said.

The PCEC position on population is the exact opposite of the Catholic Church’s stance.
According to Church officials, the idea of a burgeoning population is a myth used to scare the public into supporting artificial contraceptives.

PCEC stressed that it does not support abortion, a crime in the Philippines, because it is tantamount to murder and against the teachings of the Bible.
However, PCEC said it supports various birth control methods to prevent conception. Such action, the group said, is not a sin, because no life is harmed or created yet.

“Unborn babies, at whatever stage of pregnancy should be preserved and protected. Termination of this life is sinful and offensive to God,” PCEC said.
“But preventing pregnancy or conception is not abortion for no life has yet been conceived and there is nothing to be terminated,” it stressed.

As such, the PCEC said they support policies that “will help control the population growth.”
Instead of banning artificial, non-abortive birth control methods from public health centers, the PCEC said couples should be given comprehensive instructions on them, along with information on natural family methods.

PCEC said couples should be given a wide array of birth control methods and the right to decide what is best for them.
In some respects these two positions, the one taken by Cardinal Rosales, and the other taken by PCEC, represent the problem with the birth control debate. Cardinal Rosales sees the use of birth control as giving unfettered license to sexual immorality of all kinds, and PCEC present the case as strictly an issue of population control. One position stresses self discipline and the other stresses reproductive choice. The problem with both positions is that unitive love is left out, ignored, or given lip service.
The truth is most couples marry because they love each other, want to be with each other, and that means desire to express their love sexually. That desire is enhanced by spontaneity and spontaneity keeps relationships fresh and creative. Spontaneity is not necessarily synonymous with lack of discipline or mere lust. It very often results from a need to just express the love that one feels for one's partner at any God given moment. Natural Family Planning is not conducive to that kind of expression. It's use places avoiding conception as first and foremost in the lives of the couple and places most of the onus on the woman. I admire couples who can work around this, but those couples represent a relational understanding which is not shared by many.
On the other hand, the attitude of CPEC and other groups is way too often couched in terms which really do come across as anti child and coercive. Most couples I know who use artificial birth control are not anti child. They have very serious concerns about when and how many children they can bring into the marriage and give those children a decent quality of life. This is not a selfish attitude, it's a responsible attitude which cherishes children.
In many respects the 'war' over contraception now being waged in the Philippines is the perfect symbol of just how far the debate about birth control has come since Paul VI gave us his encyclical Humanae Vitae. It's gone no where. Some of the rhetoric defending the 'prophetic' qualities of this encyclical have left me befuddled. I've read a number of analysis which place every social ill at the feet of contraception. Even articles which admit most of these social ills were well on their way long before Paul VI became a prophet. Divorce, unwed mothers, poverty, children living off the streets, all of these were rising precipitously before 1968, but somehow, the use of artificial birth control caused all of them. Personally I think blaming the availability of birth control is a convenient excuse to ignore the fact that some of the real reasons for these increases are poverty with all it's attendant ills, and the drastic changes with in society which have served to break family ties.
People can't afford to live in family enclaves anymore. They are forced to move where the jobs are, and this places a huge amount of extra pressure on the nuclear unit. The kinds of pressures which in the past had been spread out amongst family generations. Men who had never been raised with any expectations of actually doing the day to day chores of parenting were now forced to adjust to a role for which they were not prepared. In many of their minds, they became an interactive parent when the child was old enough to throw a baseball, before then it was mommy's job. Unfortunately, too many mommys had to work just to see to it that the nuclear family had the economic resources to support itself. She too had to take on responsibilities which were not part of her gender upbringing, especially if the couple had any hope to maintain the economic status they were born into. It wasn't birth control which forced the advent of the working mother, it was economics. It's not surprising that the divorce rate skyrocketed because most couples were facing a reality that their parents had never faced.
While the Church extols the sanctity of Humanae Vitae, couples in the West are navigating a totally different path. The age for marriage keeps increasing as young adults grapple with the concepts of marriage and family and how to economically put in place a framework which can sustain the change. I see this worry surfacing again and again. Young adults will tell me they really love their partner, but have early memories of the struggles in their own young lives of missing their parents, and the constant arguing over how make the monthly bills between them. Even the most wanted children feel like a burden when their day to day experience tells them that mom and dad are having a hard time handling their existence.
I've written previously that the most widely used form of birth control in the Phillipines is abortion. Women don't abort for grins and giggles. They abort when they know they can not withstand another child. That to carry another pregnancy through to full term will have a major impact on their existing children. For Cardinal Rosales to tout the benefits of self discipline over looks the fact that in machismo cultures males are not required to practice self discipline and women are raised to accept that as their lot in life. To say no becomes an invitation to marital rape.
I don't think it's any accident that the most telling statistic about population reduction is not from birth control, but from the education of women. The higher the education in the female, the lower the birth rate. Educating women empowers them far more than providing birth control. I wish both sides would stop the debating and deal with this one simple fact. Over population is not about lack of reproductive choice, it's alout lack of education in women. Ultimately it's about placing a higher value on males than females. In this respect the Church is every bit as much behind the eight ball as China and India, whose experiences with sex selective abortion is going to bite them in the ass big time.
The Catholic Church in the Phillipines would do well to ponder on these facts. If they truly want to end the staggering abortion statistics among their flock they should stop talking about self discipline and start spending some money on the education of their women. On the other hand, educating women brings the risk of empowering them to question the assumptions behind patriarchy and the machismo culture. So which is more important, patriarchy or the rights of the unborn innocent? Who is really supporting the culture which creates the Herods Cardinal Rosales rants about?


  1. Colleen:

    I have a lot to say about this, but I'm going to wait until later to do so. Have you checked out Lee Carroll's latest post?

    It has some interesting information that is relevant to the events that are unfolding.

  2. Carl, I would say this particular channeling validates quite a bit about what Leon spoke about.

    Leon's ideas about consciousness and it's power are almost identical even though the sources for the information are certainly not. This is why Leon thought de Chardin was headed in the right direction but knew if he followed it to it's logical end it would be awfully close to gnosticism.

    Except if free choice is the reason for self aware concsiousness on this planet than the ultimate conclusion from that is that humanity creates it's own reality by it's own choice, and God approves.

    I can't wait for the particle accelerator to fire up in Sweden. I can see Leon touching his chest and saying "as is the macro world so is the micro, as is the Creator, so are we".

  3. Colleen, you say, "In many respects the 'war' over contraception now being waged in the Philippines is the perfect symbol of just how far the debate about birth control has come since Paul VI gave us his encyclical Humanae Vitae. It's gone no where."

    I think that is so insightful. It has gone nowhere, and that's precisely where church leaders intended it to go.

    So we now have a situation where a large majority of Catholics in the global north simply ignore the church on this issue, and yet the church continues to insist it is a litmus test of belonging.

    The upshot is that a small group claims to be authentically Catholic and the Catholic identity of the majority is cast in doubt. And that group now represents itself as the purveyors of the truth, with the active collusion of Rome.

    At the same time, it looks like there's going to be a renewed initiative on the part of the church to try to roll back access to contraception wherever that's possible. As this happens, I believe we'll see the mainstream media going along with the fiction that the real Catholics are those who never questioned Humanae vitae, and that those who question it have no right to represent themselves as fully Catholic.

    John Allen's atrocious op-ed piece about Humanae vitae in today's NY Times captures all those themes. He is now the quintessential court theologian, spinning apologies for "magisterial" teaching with the active complicity of the mainstream media in the U.S.

  4. Colleen, there are many layers to uncover in this subject. I think your analysis pretty much covers the debate going on and gets to the truth of the matter.

    In the first paragraph is AB Gaudencio Cardinal Rosale's advice to all married couple to exercise more "self-discipline" and "self-control" in bed.

    First, I find this offensive for anyone, especially a cleric, to say anything about the sexual goings on in someone's marital bed. For me, that is a boundary and he has crossed the line of what is a natural and necessary boundary and that is interference into a couples physical relationship and private space of intimacy. He has no business going there into the couples bedroom, but he is moseying around that bed like a pesky perverted voyeur. He doesn't belong in the bedroom. The Church doesn't belong in the bedroom.

    I love this quote “If there is discipline in the marital bed, then there is discipline in the streets, there is discipline in schools, there is discipline in the government,”... This man is on blame trip. He is saying that couples can be blamed for the lack of discipline in the streets, schools and government ... unless they adhere to NFP over other forms of family planning. These are major GUILT trips he is heaping onto couples who don't agree with his form of birth control.

    Whether one uses one form of birth control that is natural or medical is none of the Church's business. To create this sort of theology around the bedroom is a dysfunctional use of theology and it interferes with the positive energy that is garnered from having a healthy and spontaneous sexual relationship.

    This guy also does not speak about love which you have also brought up Colleen, and he has no idea what it is really like to be a mother or a father, a husband or a wife, in a committed relationship with someone else. In my opinion, misery loves company and his theology is misery and does not help couples to stay happy and alive in their marriages by placing burdens of guilt on them in the bedroom and telling them what kind of birth control method they can or cannot use.

    The Church needs to get out of the bedroom, out of the womb, and be born again in Jesus Christ and preach the Gospels. This is what the Church needs to do, instead it meddles into the private sexual lives of couples over NFP and in creating division over other forms of family planning. To promote NFP over the scientifically advanced ways of planning a family is just stupid divisiveness.

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  6. I think people in America understand their is a big difference between most lay Catholics and what passes for the hierarchy. In that sense I agree with you one hundred percent that there is a volcano of resentment against the Catholic hierarchy ready to explode. Way too many of their pronouncements are a direct assault on both the separation of church and state and ingrained notions of personal freedom to choose.

    I couldn't believe that this particular photo of Cardinal Rosales was available to use. It is worth the whole article and made a lot of points I didn't have to.

    Bill, it's interesting you wrote about John Allen, because he's also taken his share of slamming on Catholica Australia for his annoying tendency to be the Court theologian. Most specifically on WYD and proportionalism as an excuse of pedophilia.

    As a personal aside, I get the biggest kick out of the hierarchy maintaining that Humanae Vitae and their stance against birth control has not added to the abortion mill. That's certainly not what the poor rank and file are saying in the Phillipines. They are saying abortion is their only form of birth control, and these women are paying a huge emotional price for having to decide between their existing children and another unplanned pregnancy. Makes me want to scream.

  7. Here's one sure method of birth control: copy and hang that photo of Cardinal Rosales, waving his accusatory finger, above the marital bed. Guaranteed to spoil the mood, and make any couple feel as miserable as him.

  8. Good God, this is to funny. I think I've become your secret admirer.

  9. Great idea secret admirer! What a great idea for birth control. Put his pix on the fridge too and lose an appetite. Affix his picture on a bumper sticker and cars will back off for sure.

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  11. Carl,

    Kans Kung warned in one of his many groups that as a result of this encyclical, "the Church will become the Church of the ghetto" and as people are able to less deprived of education particularly in the west, the ghetto children would leave. dennis

  12. Colleen - is there a way to edit the comments? In my last comment there is a dangling paragraph at the end that should have been deleted.

    I think it is so funny that Carl commented that he didn't have to edit. Here I am - needing editing right here, now, after the fact.

  13. Butterfly I'm not sure a comment can be edited unless I do it from my main page. I think I've attempted to edit when I was making some incomprehensible post on Bill's blog and couldn't do it.

    I guess that's why they give you the preview button. I know you can edit from there. I'll just go ahead and delete that last paragraph.

  14. Butterfly, I can't edit comments either unless I go to a moderated format which I don't want to do. I guess your paragraph just gets to dangle.

  15. It certainly is a dangler. Thanks for trying to delete it.

  16. There is a backward way to edit ... highlight and copy the original on the page, past it into the comment box, then trash the prior comment and repost. It will show something like "deleted by author", but you can repost it in the edited format. Did that make any sense?

  17. Each time I look at the photo, it really says it all.

    Again, the leadership is ignoring key pieces to the puzzle, one of which is that the teachings on contraception have driven more and more of each successive generation away from the church. The children are not stupid, quite the contrary, I have found them to be extremely insightful, brilliant, and very unwilling to be told what to do by some "pompous, bloated sissy in a dress" (my son's description - the other 4 letter words he used are too euphemistic to print).

    Their dogmatic adherence to humanae vitae assures that the catholic church will eventually be the smallest religion in the world.

    The other thing they miss is that in this country there is still a very strong anti-catholic sentiment, boiling just under the surface. Among protestants AND catholics as well. The fuse on that one is already lit, the only question is when will it blow. That sentiment is subtley revealed in Robert McClory's article. I dont know what to think about John Allen's yet.

    Some people think that the Vatican has a lot of behind the scenes power in this country. I dont believe it. They may have some, but as we all know, politicians are in it for themselves, and will abandon anyone at a moments notice to forward their own personal agendas. As we saw a few months ago, one mispoken word from the pope, (islam is a religion of violence comment) can bring world opinion to a radical turnaround.

    Butterfly, I know you are concerned about the youth, but take a message from what HT wrote in one of his posts, when he said he is largely alienated from his congregation. I offer that most of the flaming fundamentalist catholic adherents in most congregations are afflicted with the same alienation.

    The leadership painting themselves into a corner with stick trap goo, a corner they eventually will not be able to get out of.

    As I reread this I'm thinking "good god, where did all of that come from?". FYI, there was no editing in this post.

    Original -July 27, 2008 2:42 PM

  18. Butterfly, re the picture,

    why not have it printed on the front and back of t-shirts and then sell the t-shirts as birth control devices

  19. Colleen - I think what you have said is brilliant. "The Catholic Church in the Phillipines would do well to ponder on these facts. If they truly want to end the staggering abortion statistics among their flock they should stop talking about self discipline and start spending some money on the education of their women. On the other hand, educating women brings the risk of empowering them to question the assumptions behind patriarchy and the machismo culture. So which is more important, patriarchy or the rights of the unborn innocent? Who is really supporting the culture which creates the Herods Cardinal Rosales rants about?"

    Birth Control prevents pregnancy. Birth control does not prevent love-making. Birth control ends abortion. End of Herods.

    NFP prevents pregnancy, maybe, sometimes, but not always. NFP prevents love-making, yes, maybe, sometimes, but not always. Unless one is extremely able to know exactly when the right time is, which is always a guesstimate, an unwanted or difficult or life threatening pregnancy could occur. It can be dangerous to your health. Do these priests have any idea what it is like to be pregnant? Do they know the sacrifices that mothers make to have the children they have? I doubt it. We're talking a major life change that changes one's life forever. People should always have the right to decide how many children they want because they alone can discern how much they can handle physically, emotionally and financially and if their health is adequate to carry the child and raise it. Some people might disagree and say the Church law should be obeyed. If the law is encroaching and suffocating with a one size fits all - cookie-cutter approach, the diehard idolaters of the magisterium should back off and not judge against their neighbors who think differently. They need to learn patience, because they do not understand or know what they do to create so many Herods. Priest for this reason should get married and have children so they know what we're talking about.

    (Thanks Carl ;)

  20. Carl, below the comment and the date is a trash bin on the left to delete a comment.