Why it is Your Choice, and Why Christianity Was Wrong in the Past
Contraception is defined by Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary as “the prevention of conception. ” Its synonym is “birth control”; defined as “the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies by preventing fertilization by the use of contraceptives or continence. ” It is argued that many forms of birth control are not in fact contraceptives because they do not interrupt the conceptual process, but merely inhibit the survival of the fertilized egg.
While we will still frame our discussion in the general category of birth control, the distinctions are important when considering ethics. For example, since the so-called “morning after pill” prevents the fertilized egg from attaching itself to the wall of the uterus, and thus causing a miscarriage, it technically would be a form of birth control, not conception control .
Ancient societies understood the difference between preventing conception and killing an infant. In fact, they used a variety of techniques to try and prevent conception. Coitus interruptus, also known as withdrawal, was widely practiced. It was, however, condemned by conservative Judaism and Roman Catholicism as a vice against nature. This idea grew from the belief that semen was a seed, containing everything necessary for life, and the womb was fertile soil in which to plant the seed. The seeds were believed to be finite, thus carelessly wasting them endangered the future health of the tribe .
The ancients also used types of diaphragms to block the sperm. In Africa, women used plugs of chopped grass or cloth. Japanese women used balls of bamboo tissue paper. Greek women used wool .
While birth control in one form or another has existed for as long as human culture, there have also been attempts to prevent anything that impeded pregnancy and birth. In 1873, Anthony Comstock was successful in passing a law through Congress that defined contraceptive information as obscene. This was the outgrowth of abortion legislation that outlawed all abortions except those necessary to save the life of a woman. In 1869, Pope Pius IX had declared that all abortion is murder. This was a change from previous Roman Catholic teaching that considered 40 days after conception for a boy and 80 days for a girl as the moment of “quickening,” meaning the beginning of life. The moment of conception now became the beginning of life, and actually the sperm and egg were even seen to be alive .
Contraceptive methods for women include the rhythm method—abstinence around the most likely time of ovulation—and precoital insertion into the vagina of substances (creams, foams, jellies, or suppositories) containing spermatocidal chemicals. The use of a diaphragm, a rubber cup-shaped device inserted before intercourse, which prevents sperm from reaching the uterine cervix. It is usually used with spermatocidal substances, intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are variously shaped small objects inserted by a doctor into the uterus: they apparently act by creating a uterine environment hostile either to the sperm or to the fertilized egg. The birth control pill, an oral contraceptive, involves a hormonal method in which estrogen and progestins are taken cyclically for 21 days a month. These pills suppress production of the hormone that would ordinarily cause ovulation . Other forms include sterilization of either the man or woman, and many new techniques and medications such as the previously mentioned “morning-after” pill, or “minutes-after” hormone, and also different forms of progestin injections or insertions .
The morality of contraception has been argued for centuries. Traditional Christians view the use of contraceptives or contraceptive behavior as sinful and in opposition to God’s will for humanity. These fundamentalists have interpreted small pieces of Biblical scripture to reveal the word of God, which shuns birth control. There has also been brought forth a scientific argument supporting the disallowance of Christians utilizing contraception techniques. On the other hand there is abundant evidence that welcomes the intelligent use of birth control measures into the lives of Christians living in the twenty-first century. There has been counter arguments formed to the traditional views, and stunning revelations about the misinterpretation of God’s word in scripture. Also, it will not be a surprise that there is a large amount of information from the scientific side that also encourages Christians to make their own choices about their views on contraception, just as God intended. This paper will serve to prove that although there is traditional evidence leading to many Christians agreeing with the views opposing birth control, that in fact scripture does not speak of birth control as a sin, but sex without conception as a joyous gift from God.
Early Christian teachings condemned birth control and saw procreation within marriage as the only acceptable goal of sex. In fact, Pope Gregory, around 600 A.D., said that all sexual desire is sinful. And the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century declared that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage. In the 1950’s, Pope Pius XII broke with tradition and allowed the form of birth control known as the rhythm method, where the woman keeps track of her menstrual cycle and determines the days she unlikely to conceive. In the 1960’s, Pope Paul VI tried to provide some theology for this view in the papal encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” In this document, the pope found a “unitive purpose” for martial sexual intercourse beyond procreation. The sexual act was a means of strengthening the relationship between the couple. However, because procreation is still seen as the natural purpose of sex, many Catholic theologians find a contradiction in saying that knowingly using the rhythm method to thwart conception is different than using a condom or the pill. The intent of the couple was to not conceive, thus going against the natural purpose of sex.
Thus, a condom is not natural because it impedes the flow of sperm to the egg. The birth control pill is not natural because it impedes the egg from taking its normal place in the uterus. The morning after pill is not natural because it impedes the fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus and begins the process of becoming a fetus. Coitus interruptus is not even natural because the sperm is deposited outside the female reproductive organs. Sperm has one natural function in life. To swim to the egg and fertilize the egg.
Catholic theologians appeal to natural law and divine revelation when constructing their ethic of life. Natural law refers to what human reason can discover about human nature and its moral duties apart from divine revelation. However, since everything has God as the ultimate source of being, natural law actually declares the will of God. In other words, the same Spirit who gives divine revelation through scripture also reveals truth through natural law .
According to the Roman Catholic view of natural law, the purpose of human sexuality is both reproductive and unitive. Thus, every sexual act should embody both aspects. So while a couple is not expected to reject the pleasure and intimacy of a sexual act, every sexual act must be open to the possibility of procreation . The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae states,
“There must be a rejection of all acts that attempt to impede procreation, both those chosen as means to an end and those chosen as ends. This includes acts that precede intercourse, acts that accompany intercourse, and acts that are directed to the natural consequences of intercourse. . . The Church has taught repeatedly, direct sterilisation of the male or female, whether permanent or temporary, is equally to be condemned .”
Thus, Early this century more was being understood about the female reproductive cycle and the process of ovulation. In 1952 Pope Pius XII and again in 1968 Pope Paul VI allowed the use of “rhythm” and other “natural” methods and abstinence for their followers. It was taught that artificial contraception, which separates the unitive and procreative aspects of intercourse, breaks moral law. These views still stand official today. Therefore it is obvious that much of Christian tradition was opposed to the use of birth control .
There is said to be biblical text that is opposed to the use of contraception. It is believed that in as early as the book of Genesis, contraception was addressed. The account of Onan (who practiced coitus interruptus) was interpreted as teaching that any form of contraception was wrong. As Onan is having sexual intercourse he withdraws and ejaculates on the ground. He is then struck deac by the hand of God. It is traditionally believed that he was stuck dead because he performed a form of contraception.
In Genesis 1:28 God tells his creations to “be fruitful and multiply. ” This is interpreted in the light that God’s moral will is for humans to procreate. The most abundantly documented truth in the Bible concerning children is that they come from God as his gift and that he, and he alone, has the privilege of giving and withholding children. This choice is God’s choice… not a choice to be made by humans.
Science also plays a part as an authority of religious ethics. Although this branch mostly supports birth control for Christians there are biological issues that help the arguing side. One is that, a casual observation of nature indicates that the natural purpose of sex is reproduction. Animals are driven by hormones, not pleasure. The sexual act is instinctive. The soul purpose of the egg has merely one function in life; to be present when the sperm reach it (which is the soul purpose of the function of sperm) . And so, it is a logical statement that reproduction is the natural purpose of the sexual act.
A second understanding that science and philosophy give us about contraception, is that some forms of contraception are not contraception at all. They are actually forms of birth control, that are not always only hindering conception but often times just not allowing the already fertilized egg to be embedded in the endomitrium layer to grow . This fact leaves Christians unaware of their actions. Are they hindering the conception of the sperm and the egg? Or are the killing an already conceived child? The question leaves some Christians opposed to the use of any birth control or contraceptives.
Tradition also serves to support the use of birth control. The traditional view of the Presbyterians is in the support of a woman’s right to practice birth control. The normative beliefs most important for understanding the Presbyterian perspective are, “sex is a good gift from God”, and “justice is the primary desire of God” .
Saying sex is a good gift from God is different than saying sex is the means of procreation. From the Presbyterian perspective, sex is a gift like bread, sunshine, and friendship; things to be enjoyed, but not abused. This means that procreation is simply one possible outcome of sex. Pleasure is another, and equally as valuable .
Saying that justice is the primary desire of God not only allows for birth control – justice for a woman to choose – but actually can be seen as encouraging birth control. Given that the human population is rapidly approaching the carrying capacity of our planet’s eco-system, promoting large families can be seen as irresponsible, and in fact, threatening to the health of the larger community and future generations. Justice for all creation – both the natural world and human society – may require stewardship of reproduction through birth control .
Also, there is now influence of today’s culture that challenges the views of tradition, specifically the Vatican, which is against contraception. It strikes many Catholics as bizarre that the men of the Vatican, who haven’t had children, live celibate lives, and seem hopelessly out of touch with the realities of day to day Christians lives, made the decision and interpretation of the Bible as the one that doesn’t let Christians choose to use or reject contraception . Thus, there are many tradition views that support the use of birth control, and many of the traditional views that did not condone contraception are now being re-evaluated by the followers of Catholicism and Christianity.
The main argument for the condonence of contraception as it pertains to Scripture is that there isn’t much, if any, of God’s word on birth control portrayed in the Bible. What is said in the Bible is interpreted by the traditional Christians to pertain to contraception.
It has been said by other traditions that by practicing the use of birth control, that you are thwarting God’s sovereign will, but what they fail to acknowledge is that by very definition, God’s sovereign will is not something that can be thwarted. His sovereign will is always fulfilled. His sovereign will even entails evil actions. He takes those into consideration to accomplish His sovereign goals. So it must be His moral will that birth control allegedly violates. But His moral will is always clearly revealed, so we are careful to obey it. What do we have revealed in the Scriptures pertaining to birth control? Nothing .
We have one reference in Genesis 38 that some have taken to be a reference to birth control where Onan spills his seed on the ground (coitus interruptus). He withdraws in the act of intercourse, ejaculates on the ground, and God strikes him dead . The big question is, why does God strike him dead? It seems foolish to assume that God struck him dead for practicing birth control. It seems like very strong punishment, and if that is what happened, the God must feel very strongly about such a thing as birth control. If God feels so strongly about such a thing, why are we left up to our own devices to figure this out from one verse in the book of Genesis? Why wouldn’t God confirm such a hatred for this act in the Law? There are no direct or even mildly indirect statements about birth control, or even one form of birth control – coitus interrupts. Thus, God did not intend for us to reject birth control.
Lastly, it is argued above that the natural function of sexual intercourse is procreation. It wasn’t taken into account that the Bible clearly shows that there are more purposes for sex within marriage than simply procreation. In any case children are looked upon as an additional blessing in the Scriptures; “Children are a gift from God: They are his reward. Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him.” Children are not an automatic event. God provided a companion for Adam in the Garden with no mention of children in that contact.
The unity between husband and wife in marriage, throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, is spoken as a mystery expressing the relationship between Christ and his Church. In that contest is seems to have nothing to do with producing children. Regardless of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits the enjoyment of sexual pleasure within a marriage. Paul in the New Testament teaches that a limited period of abstinence may be appropriate but that otherwise normal sexual relations should take place. Procreation is not mentioned in this context. The point he is making is that one of the best antidotes to adultery is a satisfactory marital relationship. Conception is neither condoned nor condemned in Biblical Scripture.
Science and philosophy also support the use of contraceptives. Firstly, is it worthwhile to point out that many of today’s contraceptives not only provide the hindrance of, but they also help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases .
Secondly, is the counter argument to the issue revealed that the primary function of sexual intercourse is production. How can sexual intercourse be said to be essentially generative when most acts of intercourse are infertile? There are rhythmically only a few days out of a month that a woman’s body can retain a fertilized egg and incubate it throughout a pregnancy. It seems logical that if procreation were a main function, then God would have intentionally heightened the ability to conceive children at any time of the month.
Lastly, in relation to the above, there is one factor of sexual biology that was overlooked when determining the main function of sexual intercourse as procreation. Is there only one possible function of the organs, or does the fact we have bundles of nerve endings more concentrated in those areas than anywhere else on our bodies indicate a multifunction purpose? We do not need the extreme pleasure sensitivity in our sex organs to reproduce the species. Instinct and hormones alone could easily guide us. Therefore is it obvious that God intended more that just procreation when he gave us the gift of intercourse .
There are many factors to consider as a Christian when making the personal decision whether to use contraceptive devices in your relationship. Most traditional views and interpretation of Christianity condemned the use of any sort of birth control with the thought that god put humanity on earth to pro-create, therefore we must do as He wishes. Finally, more contemporary views and newer interpretation of Biblical Scripture show us that in fact God has empowered us to make our own decisions about the choices concerning whether to use birth control or not. Like all areas of life, sexual activities must be placed in the context of the stewardship of God’s creation. We should enjoy God’s creation while at the same time making God’s creation more enjoyable for all people.
1 Cor 7:1-7
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