Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NFP: "Trojan Horse," or Saving Grace? Part 2

There's a lot to hack through here.
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This is part 2 in a series. Turns out I had more to say than one post would naturally allow. Part 1 is here.

Previously, we looked at the first sections of this. Now, we'll hack through some more.

We'll start by looking as Ms. Boyd's fundamental misunderstanding of what NFP really is.

She continues:
'The same goes for a married couple, really. When a married couple thinks the time is not right for pregnancy, the first option is abstinence; but, if desire is too strong, then charity demands that they engage in the remedy for their concupiscence. This remedy may be NFP. NFP as a “remedy for concupiscence” sounds, to me, a lot more honest in its presentation than touting it as a “way of life” or a “virtue.” From a marketing standpoint, though, NFP as a “remedy for concupiscence” doesn’t sound nearly as appealing as “NFP as a way of life”, or “God’s plan for the family”.'
This is the essence of NFP, although stated in a bit more archaic terms than we're used to, and warrants a disctinction made between NFP and responsible parenthood.
NFP and Responsible Parenthood work hand in hand.
But there is a differenc ebetween the two.
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NFP is a way of life. It is the method(s) by which one tracks her fertility, and determines what times she is and is not fertile. It also allows for a holistic view at health, for in determining issues with cycle length, mucous quality, temperature issues, hormonal rises and drops, etc., a woman is able to get more data points into her overall health. Continuing to chart, even when there is no reason to avoid or postpone pregnancy, is common and encouraged for specifically these reasons. Hence, NFP really is a way of life.
Responsible parenthood, on the other hand, concerns applying NFP's data points into decision making about  whether or not to actively achieve, actively postpone, or actively rely on providence for the gift of pregnancy. Responsible parenthood, not NFP, is the process of judging fertility vs. just reasons to conclude whether or not to abstain "for a time." The distinction is actually a common misconception, and one I can't fault her too much on.
But her idea that NFP is unvirtuous and merely relegated to a 'remedy for concupiscence' is inaccurate. The "abstaining for a time" ((i.e., periodic continence) see 1 Corinthians 7:5) is, in its essence, a fast. It is a fast from the marital act in order to achieve a greater spiritual good. Couples discern just reasons, and refrain from partaking in order to more virtuously dedicate themselves to the tasks that God has already granted them. This is what responsible parenthood is all about - applying the awareness that NFP provides in a just way that best serves the family God has granted.
'It seems silly to claim that one is “open to children” when one is organizing one’s life around having sex not likely to be fruitful! The NFP “way of life,” when not practiced to achieve pregnancy, is all about sterile sex – sex that is meant only to make the couple feel good, with no consequences attached to that pleasure. The “background music” of the NFP way of life is always about sexual intimacy: “when we can, when we should, when we can’t, and when we shouldn’t”.'
"Did I say NFP? Shoot bro,
I meant contraception!"
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Again, confusing the NFP way of life (holistic awareness about the body) with responsible parenthood. Even so, the conclusion is wrong. NFP+RP (NFP plus responsible that one?) is never 'sterile.' Sterility is a separate action. Rendering an act sterile is outside of the normal course of nature. Fasting and reuniting "after a time" is in accordance with nature, and is biblical in its application. Rendering an act 'sterile' requires an additional interruption of nature. It is precisely this separate act that Pope Pius XI proclaimed against in Casti connubii:
“Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.”
The deed spoken of is not abstaining - it is fundamentally altering the nature of sexuality by committing a deed to frustrate (i.e., change the course of) nature. NFP+RP does not do this. It works through the nature of God's design of male and female - "very good," as He created them - by "abstaining for a time."
'Our culture has a lot to do with our understanding of human sexuality. In a recent article addressing this issue, an insightful author notes that “Teen Pregnancy is Not the Problem”. Instead, she says, the problem is how the world presents the topic of “sex”:
The world says sex is primarily for pleasure. That sex doesn’t have to be for unity or procreation. That everybody’s doing it. That there is something wrong with you if you aren’t.
…The world tells us to act on all our urges as soon as possible. To get what we want, when we want it, always. To control our fertility instead of ourselves if we aren’t prepared to become parents.
…It’s time to use our lives to tell the world sex is primarily for procreation and unity…
Couples marry today with certain expectations about both marriage and sex shaped by public media. Sex is supposed to be “good” with a “good partner” and “personally satisfying”; in other words, sex is “all about the couple” – a variation on the theme of “it’s all about me”. People enter marriage today with a culturally-conditioned expectation that “sex is like what I’ve seen in the movies” – which is to say it looks really great, and fun, and exciting! The NFP ideology (and that is what it is) does little to teach the true meaning of marriage, sex, or chastity, but is an unwitting participant in the unchaste sexuality that is rampant in our culture. To teach engaged couples about “family planning” of any kind is conceding that “family planning” (a.k.a., birth control) is a presumed need and value in today’s Catholic marriages.'
Wait a second. She's now quoting an author who says sex is for procreation AND unity, but a few paragraphs back, decried unity??
Is anyone confused by the lack of clarity here?
I didn't catch it the first time. Or was it because you changed what you said halfway through?
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NFP+RP teaches that parenthood is an awesome responsibility granted by God. It teaches that we are to be open to life, and apply abstinence only for just reasons. This seems to be a point that critics like Ms. Boyd forget. NFP teaches methods of awareness; RP teaches stewardship. Neither teaches that it is a requirement or an obligation. And most definitely, NEITHER teach that birth control is needed or valued.
Rather, both teach that they are to applied within the framework of the Sacrament, and within Pope Pius XII's Address to the Italian Midwives:
“Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called ‘indications,’ may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned. If, however, according to a reasonable and equitable judgment, there are no such grave reasons either personal or deriving from exterior circumstances, the will to avoid the fecundity of their union, while continuing to satisfy to the full their sensuality, can only be the result of a false appreciation of life and of motives foreign to sound ethical principles.”
There is nothing in the lexicon of NFP+RP that denies this, or flies in the face of it.
So let's recap before we break for Part 3.
We know Scripture that periodic continence, or abstaining from the marital act, is recommended in Scripture.
We know that sexuality, and its associated pleasures, was created by God to be "very good" as an end in itself.
We know that NFP works with responsible parenthood, under the guidelines of 'just reasons' laid down in the Catechism and expanded upon by Pope Pius XII.

More to come in Part 3.


  1. And we know that God has a plan for the natural spacing of births with ecological breastfeeding. This type of natural mothering involves certain maternal behaviors that are associated with natural infertility and no abstinence is required. I wish I could attach two recent studies. One showed the amazing benefit of breastfeeding for babies--a 20 to 30% increase in white matter of the brain for breastfed children. The other study showed the benefits to the mother who breastfeed for at least one year: breast cancer reduced by 5000 cases, 54 cases of hypertension cases absent, and the absence of 14,000 heart attacks. Breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice but a public-health imperative. Eco-breastfeeding enhances those outcomes.

    Sheila Kippley
    volunteer for NFP International

  2. Excellent info, Sheila. Thanks for sharing. Wife and I are big proponents of ecological breastfeeding. Can you provide links to the studies? I'd really be interested in reading and writing about them.