On another thread, someone linked to an analysis by Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe, the analytic philosopher and devout convert to the Vatican who bested C.S. Lewis on miracles.
Although I found the thing rather poorly written, it does touch on a number of aspects of the Vatican's argument of its contraceptive position, and was written evidently a few years after the Vatican issued its statement on that, Humanae Vitae. I began to comment on the original thread, but I think it might take it further off topic there, but might be more on topic here.
In commenting, I passed over a number of points in the beginning of the piece that perhaps I ought to state here. One the opening itself raises:
I will first ask you to contemplate a familiar point: the fantastic change that has come about in people's situation in respect of having children because of the invention of efficient contraceptives.
I would first contemplate an unfamiliar point, at least in being brought up in this context. Having children in this modern age does constitute one of the few, if not the only, area where modernists might be modestly right in their contention that the world of today differs from the world of the past, but not in the way Anscombe here contends. For a variety of methods of contraception have always been available-just withdrawal has a 73% up to 96% success rate of preventing conception. What has changed and shook the earth lies in the fall in infant and child mortality: we live in a very different world where we expect to keep every child we conceive and live to see them live into adulthood and produce grandchildren for us, than the world our greatparents and their ancestors lived in, where one might have a half dozen to a dozen children expecting to bury half of them. My great grandparents were lucky: they had 7 and 5 survived.
I'll continue, but first I'll post what I'll already said:
Thanks everyone for this discussion! You have given me a lot to think about. Because I fear I am making a poor argument for the Roman Catholic position I will appeal to the philosopher GEM Anscombe:
You are not making a poor argument, it is just a poor argument to make.
"Here, however, people still feel intensely confused, because the intention where oral contraceptives are taken seems to be just the same as when intercourse is deliberately restricted to infertile periods. In one way this is true, and its truth is actually pointed out by Humanae Vitae, in a passage I will quote in a moment. But in another way it's not true.
The reason why people are confused about intention, and why they sometimes think there is no difference between contraceptive intercourse and the use of infertile times to avoid conception, is this: They don't notice the difference between "intention" when it means the intentionalness of the thing you're doing - that you're doing this on purpose - and when it means a further or accompanying intention with which you do the thing. For example, I make a table: that's an intentional action because I am doing just that on purpose. I have the further intention of, say, earning my living, doing my job by making the table. Contraceptive intercourse and intercourse using infertile times may be alike in respect of further intention, and these further intentions may be good, justified, excellent. This the Pope has noted. He sketched such a situation and said: "It cannot be denied that in both cases the married couple, for acceptable reasons," (for that's how he imagined the case) "are perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and mean to secure that none will be born." This is a comment on the two things: contraceptive intercourse on the one hand and intercourse using infertile times on the other, for the sake of the limitation of the family.
But contraceptive intercourse is faulted, not on account of this further intention, but because of the kind of intentional action you are doing. The action is not left by you as the kind of act by which life is transmitted, but is purposely rendered infertile, and so changed to another sort of act altogether.
In considering an action, we need always to judge several things about ourselves. First: is the sort of act we contemplate doing something that it's all right to do? Second: are our further or surrounding intentions all right? Third: is the spirit in which we do it all right? Contraceptive intercourse fails on the first count; and to intend such an act is not to intend a marriage act at all, whether or no we're married. An act of ordinary intercourse in marriage at an infertile time, though, is a perfectly ordinary act of married intercourse, and it will be bad, if it is bad, only on the second or third counts.
It may help you to see that the intentional act itself counts, as well as the further or accompanying intentions, if you think of an obvious example like forging a cheque to steal from somebody in order to get funds for a good purpose. The intentional action, presenting a cheque we've forged, is on the face of it a dishonest action, not be vindicated by the good further intention."
More can be read here: http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/AnscombeChastity.php
I'll get down to that, but before I've noticed a few problems as we go along:
The prohibition was issued in the same breath as the merely temporary retention of Judaic laws prohibiting the eating of blood - no black pudding!
Who says it is "merely temporary" or "Judaic? The Council of Jerusalem, i.e. Scripture, gives no such indication.
In one word: Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.
An assertion which she begs throughout the piece. Again, in this she follows most apologists of HV, who seem to think contraception means "sex on demand" 24/7, and couples engaging in contraception are permanently joined at their hips (or thereabouts).
And if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraceptive intercourse, and if it could become general practice everywhere when there is intercourse but ought to be no begetting, then it's very difficult to see the objection to this morality, for the ground of objection to fornication and adultery was that sexual intercourse is only right in the sort of set-up that typically provides children with a father and mother to care for them. If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don't mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak-tree but it's the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married? Restricted, that is, to partners bound in a formal, legal, union whose fundamental purpose is the bringing up of children? For if that is not its fundamental purpose there is no reason why for example "marriage" should have to be between people of opposite sexes. But then, of course, it becomes unclear why you should have a ceremony, why you should have a formality at all. And so we must grant that children are in this general way the main point of the existence of such an arrangement. But if sexual union can be deliberately and totally divorced from fertility, then we may wonder why sexual union has got to be married union. If the expression of love between the partners is the point, then it shouldn't be so narrowly confined.
Only the mentality which dreams up the Corban of annullments could dream up such a paragraph. She seems to deny the fact that children can and are produced from reproductive types of act outside of marriage all the time (whether they should is another issue). Would she argue, for instance, that woman-on-top or dorsal intercourse "turn[s ] intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act"? Because the Stoic philosophy which formed the basis of HV's position and the meagre patristics and canons which nurtured it argued just that.
People shouldn't marry to have children: that renders the husband a sperm donor and the wife a baby maker. Marriage should result in children, but they are the result, not the aim, of the marriage. Her argument, as other apologists for HV, reduce couples to breeders.
Lord willing, I'll return to this later. But in the meantime, her dismissive parenthesis do not dispense of the objection: every intercourse would have to be reproductive for her to be correct. Once you allow "types" of the act, contraception (artificial or natural) has its license.
The only objection, then, to the new heathen, contraceptive morality will be that the second condition I mentioned - near-universality of contraception where there ought not to be begetting - simply won't be fulfilled. Against the background of a society with that morality, more and more people will have intercourse with little feeling of responsibility, little restraint, and yet they just won't be so careful about always using contraceptives. And so the widespread use of contraceptives naturally leads to more and more rather than less and less abortion (The exception to this in the short term is where abortion has been encouraged and contraceptives not available, making contraceptives available then produces an immediate but only temporary reduction in abortions.) Indeed, abortion is now being recommended as a population control measure - a second line of defence.
getting through this very poorly written paragraph, she seems not to know that most, if not nearly all, married couples who practice contraception do in fact beget and bear (the exclusive use of "begetting" seems to belie the Stoic fetish that underlies the "reasoning" of HV) children.
Of course, she continues to beg the issue that "contraceptive mentality" leads to "intercourse with little feeling of responsibility" and "little restraint," rather than the other way around. I don't think the Netherlands lagged behind the US in that in the '60's, although contraception, information on contraception, and contraceptive propaganda like Planned Parenthood were illegal until 1969. Nor does it lead to homosexuality, btw, which was legalized in the Netherlands nearly two centuries before.
I don't think she has the facts to back up her assertion that "the widespread use of contraceptives naturally leads to more and more rather than less and less abortion", or even the theory: if contraception removes all restraint, as she argues, then there are more instances of intercourse, and the number of abortions would have to go up to keep up and not drop in the ratio of abortion/intercourse. Intercourse hasn't gone down in the US, but the abortion rate has, and I think that has been the case in most countries' statistics I have seen except for Japan-where contraception has been available but no one uses it, preferring abortion as a back up. Conversely, contraception is available in Egypt, and is used, but big families remain the norm.
She pretty much condemns the POV she is advocated when she says
Now if this - that you won't get this universal "taking care" - is the only objection then it's a pretty miserable outlook. Because, like the fear of venereal disease, it's an objection that's little capable of moving people or inspiring them as a positive ideal of chastity may.
as she doesn't get much beyond the fear of pregnancy as a check on promiscuity, if at all.
The Christian Church has taught such an ideal of chastity: in a narrower sense, and in a broader sense in which chastity is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty. In the narrower sense chastity means continence, abstention. I have to say something about this - though I'm reduced to stammering because I am a mediocre worldly person leading an ordinary sort of worldly life; nevertheless I'll try to say it even with stammering.
What people are for is, we believe, like guided missiles, to home in on God, God who is the one truth it is infinitely worth knowing, the possession of which you could never get tired of, like the water which if you have you can never thirst again, because your thirst is slaked forever and always. It's this potentiality, this incredible possibility, of the knowledge of God of such a kind as even to be sharing in his nature, which Christianity holds out to people; and because of this potentiality every life, right up to the last, must be treated as precious. Its potentialities in all things the world cares about may be slight; but there is always the possibility of what it's for. We can't ever know that the time of possibility of gaining eternal life is over, however old, wretched, "useless" someone has become.
"every sperm is sacred"http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptTwi6-ii-s
Now there are some people who want this so much that they want to be totally concerned with it and to die to their own worldly, earthly and fleshly desires. It is people who are so filled with this enormous desire and are able to follow it, who pursue the course of chastity in the narrow sense - this is the point, the glory, of Christian celibacy and virginity and of vows of chastity. I think one has to know about it in order to appreciate the teachings of Christianity about chastity in a wide sense. But as I say I speak stammeringly because I'm not very well qualified.
Her stammering spits out the confusion of chastity with celibacy. Many who have embraced Christian celibacy without being called to it have tarnished monasticism rather than giving it luster, while a Christian marriage is truly a glory to behold-even the Muslims in Egypt admit it so.
It is surprising that the writings of monks in the golden age of monasticism dwell mostly on bellies and fasting, rather than reproductive organs and their use or misuse.
The frustration of desired celibacy haunts much HV apologetic.
a penetrating moral analysis of marriage and sexuality that will benefit any reader who rejects the secularist reduction of marriage as merely a union that sanctions sexual activity between partners
the reduction of marriage to merely a means of breeding isn't better.
Turning to chastity not in the narrower sense but in the sense in which it is simply the virtue connected with sex, the Christian Church has always set its face against contraception from the earliest time as a grave breach of chastity. It inherited from Israel the objection to "base ways of copulating for the avoidance of conception", to quote St Augustine. In a document of the third century a Christian author wrote of the use of contraceptives by freeborn Christian women of Rome. These women sometimes married slaves so as to have Christian husbands but they were under a severe temptation because if the father was a slave the child was a slave by Roman law and this was a deterrent to having children; and they practised some form of contraception. This was the occasion of the earliest recorded explicit Christian observation on the subject. The author writes like a person mentioning a practice which Christians at large must obviously regard as shameful.
this paragraph is so choked full of factual errors that its no wonder that she was misled.
First, in Roman law, in contrast to the English Common law that Anscombe evidently did assUme to be universal, status was inherited from the mother, not the father (as in English law: it wasn't until the American colonies passed legislation adopting Partus sequitur ventrem (Latin "that which is brought forth follows the womb") from Roman civil law in 1662 that it entered English law, which comported with Roman legal theory, which held slavery was not a natural state but a convention universally adopted and subject to local civil law). In fact, if a woman was free for a single moment from conception to birth, the child was freeborn, regardless of the mother's status before conception or after birth. Such a colossal blunder commits a fatal error in her argument here.
Of course, she doesn't identify said "document of the third century,' so we can't analyze it much. All that I have seen condemn abortion and abortifacients. But not all contraception is abortifacient. In fact, as an abortifacient has to have a conception to occur in order to work, contraception and abortifaceints are two different things-which HV and its supporters continue to insist on conflating.
"It inherited from Israel the objection to "base ways of copulating for the avoidance of conception", to quote St Augustine." Unfortunately, she can't quote the rabbis on it: the Talmud bears the mark of being written by married men, and they allow quite a lot. Orthodox Jews, for instance, aren't bothered by using the pill, and it hasn't led to a plague of promiscuity among them (in fact, the genetic studies on the Levites/Cohens has led to pride among the Jews on their wives fidelity: since it traces lineage in the male line, the fact that non-Levite women married to Levites/Cohens have born genetically Levites/Cohens some took as indication of this fidelity).
"the Christian Church has always set its face against contraception from the earliest time as a grave breach of chastity" Oh? Hard to tell as, unlike abortion which has been vigorously opposed by Christians ever since the time of the Apostles and explicitly so, contraception (as opposed to abortifaicents) is barely mentioned in passing, if indeed mentioned at all, let alone condemned.
I perhaps should say that I have a nagging doubt about her logic on chastity being to sex what courage is to danger. Courage doesn't embrace danger like chastity embraces sex in marriage.