Friday, July 28, 2017

Friends Don't Let Friends NFP

The week of July 23-29, 2017—as my dear, humorous wife informed me out of the blue, earlier today—is National NFP Awareness Week. For the five or so Catholics in America who are blessed never to have heard of NFP, it stands for "Neither Fun nor Posterity."

The USCCB has produced an extensive media kit and educational program on its website, complete with suggested homily talking points, bulletin inserts, and prayers of the faithful. This year's promotional poster, attached immediately below, is indicative of the narcissistic, child-fearing culture in which the Gospel of NFP intends to find purchase: a 20-something couple drinking terrible alcohol whilst announcing their engagement to friends and family with a so-called selfie by way of text and/or social media. The fearful look in his eyes complements her look of vacant inebriation.

But let's hope "the time" doesn't happen on the honeymoon!
The recommended bulletin inserts range from the banal to the obscene. Some of these risqué selections will have parents burning the bulletins and scattering the ashes before the little children (who may or may not exist) can get their wee hands on this lewd material:
NFP is an umbrella term for certain methods used to achieve and avoid pregnancies. These methods are based on observation of the naturally occurring signs and symptoms of the fertile and infertile phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Couples using NFP to avoid pregnancy abstain from intercourse and genital contact during the fertile phase of the woman’s cycle.
The couple... are acting as “ministers” of God’s plan and they “benefit from” their sexuality according to the original dynamism of “total” self-giving, without manipulation or alteration. [All quotation marks sic, by the way.]
Couples who adopt NFP to space the births of children find that it brings about many positive changes in their relationship and even becomes a way of life. It begins with acceptance, and even wonder, at the way the human body is made.
But enough sex ed. For all the "wonder" and "total" self-giving that NFP is supposed to engender, "God's Plan for Married Love" in fact baffles and frustrates newlyweds who are unhappy with the insertion of periodic celibacy into their marital bliss. The FAQs about the whens and whys of NFP practically forbid any tangible interaction with the grave reasons (translated less gravely here as "serious") that permit its practice. Instead, the assumption is that regular continence should be the norm and the old method of "just havin' them babbies" is for third-world weirdos who don't know any better:
In this view of "responsible parenthood" married couples carefully think about the just reasons they may have to postpone pregnancy. When making decisions about the number and spacing of children in their family, they weigh their responsibilities to God, each other, the children they already have, and the world in which they live.
Or, well, they don't.

Not so long ago, experienced adults would have recommended to young men and women who were itching for a scratch that they had better be prepared for parenthood before walking down the aisle. Indulging in God's gift of intercourse between the sexes came with the great joy of fatherhood and motherhood, which was its natural end. Those who presume to indulge had better be ready for the results, emotionally, morally, and financially. The perversion of this end used to be so despised that it was even illegal in the secular state. Now it is claimed as a right.

"Be Her Joseph!" one JP2-generation Catholic writes, but one can hardly imagine the chaste St. Joseph penning something like this about the Blessed Virgin: "Much to my surprise, I also learned how grateful my wife was that I was willing to learn how her body worked!" But one might suppose that the celibate marriage of Joseph and Mary is a somewhat fitting model for the quarter-celibate lifestyle promoted by NFP missionaries and mommy bloggers who cannot abstain from venting their periodic frustration on the rest of us innocent bystanders.

Evelyn Waugh mocked the rise of the birth control movement in his 1932 novel Black Mischief, when the Minister of Modernization in a small African nation attempted to spread propaganda to the uneducated masses by means of a colorful poster design:
It portrayed two contrasted scenes. On one side a native hut of hideous squalor, overrun with children of every age, suffering from every physical incapacity — crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane; the father prematurely aged with paternity squatted by an empty cook-pot; through the door could be seen his wife, withered and bowed with child bearing, desperately hoeing at their inadequate crop. On the other side a bright parlour furnished with chairs and table; the mother, young and beautiful, sat at her ease eating a huge slice of raw meat; her husband smoked a long Arab hubble-bubble (still a caste mark of leisure throughout the land), while a single, healthy child sat between them reading a newspaper. Inset between the two pictures was a detailed drawing of some up-to-date contraceptive apparatus and the words in Sakuyu: WHICH HOME DO YOU CHOOSE?
Interest in the pictures was unbounded; all over the island woolly heads were nodding, black hands pointing, tongues clicking against filed teeth in unsyntactical dialects. Nowhere was there any doubt about the meaning of the beautiful new pictures.
See: on right hand: there is rich man: smoke pipe like big chief: but his wife she no good: sit eating meat: and rich man no good: he only one son.
See: on left hand: poor man: not much to eat: but his wife she very good, work hard in field: man he good too: eleven children: one very mad, very holy. And in the middle: Emperor’s juju. Make you like that good man with eleven children.
And as a result, despite admonitions from squire and vicar, the peasantry began pouring into town for the gala, eagerly awaiting initiation to the fine new magic of virility and fecundity.
Our desires are today so divorced from nature that those few who welcome all of God's gifts are expected to explain themselves to the "normal" married couple with 1.5 children and a dog. Anyone can slap "God's Plan" on a poster. Few consider the consequences.

"Dear St. Joseph, please make my husband like you: young, hunky, and never too grabby."


  1. Notice, too, in that horrid "Be Her Joseph!" piece, the white-knighting in defense of Eve. It's Adam's fault, you see, for failing/refusing to protect her. I understand this is a conceit commonly taught at Steubenville. Aquinas' teaching to the contrary (that Eve objectively sinned more grievously than Adam's, though it was the latter's sin that brought about the fall) is simply ignored.

    I hope you will some day do a blog post commenting on this baffling error and its origins.

    1. I know that Dr. Scott Hahn's imaginative recreation of the Fall leans heavily on the protective element, but even the much older "Paradise Lost" includes Adam's failed responsibility of protection. I do not think this idea played any great role in the thought of the Church Fathers or the Scholastics, but I can't say that I've done very much research. I suspect there is a streak of misapplied chivalry at play with this interpretation.

      There is nothing in the Biblical text to suggest that Adam was given specific instructions to protect Eve from temptation. Indeed, it seems likely that God intended for both of them to be tested before granting them the grace of beatitude. If the serpent had failed to seduce Eve, presumably he would have been permitted to try more directly with Adam.

      "He that hath not been tempted, what manner of things doth he know?" (Sir. 34)

    2. It’s passed around at Steubenville, to the horror of theology professors. Mine did point out that had Eve alone sinned, Thomas taught that original sin would be in her alone, but my prof didn’t fall for this faux–masculinity push that Adam failed as a man and ergo did worse. I fell prey to that trap and recently found my way out of it...

    3. You mean that Eve alone was seduced? I think everyone agrees they both sinned.

    4. It was phrased hypothetically: "...HAD Eve alone sinned..."

      Though normal usage would have been "would have been" rather than "would be." It threw me at first as well.

  2. J., Outstanding piece! I laughed out loud when I read the mere title. I realize it's a complex subject, but you are right that there is a cloud of quasi-perversion that hangs over much of the push for NFP.

    (I'm not sure what to make of the "mommy blogger" you cited. She seems angry almost to the point of blasphemy. Not surprisingly, in another post of hers I happened to see, she descends into profanity not unlike "Mooch" and evidently has no real problem with one of the commenters using a literal blasphemy.)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. She seems angry almost to the point of blasphemy.

      Well, that's par for the course for Simcha.

  3. NFP is proclaimed to be an integral part of marriage spirituality. Well, if having interest into viscosity of your wife's vaginal mucus scratch my name of the list of spiritual people...Sorry for graphics...

    "You must be open to life", or in other words: "You can have sexual relations in infertile times precisely because you don't want life but y must be open to the possibility that the undesired outcome, i.e. life, happens and you're not allowed an abortion."

  4. I was just saying to my wife, in the context of the ubiquitous "mommy blogger" rants out there, just how sex-obsessed these neo-con bloggers (and the rank and file) are! They've allowed the liberal "Catholics" and the secular culture in general to dictate the content and terms of what is to be discussed and debated among Catholics. Why is the Faith today reduced to the NATURAL issues of marriage and family to the new exclusion and complete ignoring of the supernatural, of the Liturgy, etc., etc. Some of us a quite sick and tired of the mommy blog empire and the whole "mommy martyr" complex said empire projects.

    1. "Why is the Faith today reduced to the NATURAL issues of marriage and family to the new exclusion and complete ignoring of the supernatural, of the Liturgy, etc., etc."
      Hear, hear!

      Perhaps not directly connected, but when people tend to ask me why the Church says marriage must be indissoluble and open to life, I don't get into natural law explanations. Here is something I wrote elsewhere:

      If the couple now represents Christ and the Church, then it necessarily follows that their union must be indissoluble, for the Church is born of Christ’s side, just as Eve was of Adam’s, and Christ is ever-faithful to the flesh of His flesh. As for openness to life, just as the Church is generous in generating spiritual children, bringing them forth from her womb which is the baptismal font, so the couple must be generous.

    2. Why is the Faith today reduced to the NATURAL issues of marriage and family to the new exclusion and complete ignoring of the supernatural, of the Liturgy, etc., etc.

      Perhaps because that's just about all of the Church's tradition that John Paul II decided to salvage out of the rubble of the post-conciliar auto demolition.

  5. Excellent entry.

    If finances are indeed an important consideration, then Waugh’s Africans are guilty of their own perverted views, right? That is, it would be unvirtuous to marry if you can be sure your kids will be “crippled, deformed, blind, spotted and insane” due to your inability to afford their healthcare. Or, at what point would it not be unvirtuous? Is it society-dependent? Eg., in some societies, perhaps it is acceptable to approach it like, “7 out of 10 making it, with only 1 of the 3 dead dying a truly horrific death, would be grand”.

    Although the decision probably isn’t as much of a matter of prudence as we tend to make it today, I do think it still can be from time to time. Here are some more modern versions of the question, perhaps you already have strong thoughts on them:

    “Should I marry if having a bunch of kids means we’ll have to live in a high crime area? A few of the neighbors’ places got shot up due to bad drug deals, which probably wouldn’t happen to us, but we’ll almost certainly be at least daytime-robbed a few times over the years.”

    “Should I marry if having a bunch of kids means we’ll have to string out payments on our $300k+ higher ed debt over the course of 10-20 years?”

    “Should I marry if having a bunch of kids means we won’t be able to afford to visit much of our family, who live all over the country, more than every 3 or 4 years?”

    And then of course there are couples already married for whom the questions are more proximal (a matter of spacing rather than marrying).

    1. What really scares me is that the default mindset is something along these lines: "If I cannot promise my children a perfect enough life, it is my responsibility to not inflict existence upon them." It is similar to the old secular adage: "I could never bring children into such a terrible world."

      But the world has always been, and will always be, terrible to one degree or another. Children will rarely have a safe and cozy existence. Those who do tend to become pompous and cruel. I do not understand the mindset of demanding the time to get one's business in order before he will permit new human beings to exist. That's what the engagement period is for, not the first 1-4 years of marriage.

      Your unconceived children have the right to exist. It is not your right to deny them that without very, very grave cause.

    2. Yeah, it's a strange and horrible adage. I agree. I was just trying to make the point though that on occasion it's not exactly a question of the well-being of the child, but one of balancing obligations. In the scenarios above, it can look like,

      Is there an obligation to travel to see family every once in awhile? If so, is it totally lifted in the face of an obligation to have children if I'm already married?

      Is there an obligation to not purposefully make minimum payments on educational loans to avoid remaining in debt for 20 years? If so, is it totally lifted in the face of an obligation to have children if I'm already married?

      The answer might be, for those two, that there is no obligation in the first place for those things (eg. it is perfectly moral to choose minimum payments on considerable debt and, say, intend to aim for some sort of contractual forgiveness). But answering those questions isn't always easy/intuitive, I'd say. But surely those sorts of moral questions aren't actually on people's minds most of the time, and instead they're just wanting to maximize pleasure.

      I'll add though that I don't like the "rights" language here. Strictly speaking, no, an individual who does not exist body nor soul has no rights. Whatever the (a) right even is. It is more fitting to frame the issue as one of duty on an existing agent, eg. a married man.

    3. It may have been a figure of speech, but the Church Fathers often condemned birth control as a sin against as yet unconceived children. St. Jerome, for instance: "They drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived."

  6. I think a valid consideration would be in countries where the state intervenes in family affairs, is there the risk of the state taking one's child away (and even giving it to be adopted by a gay "couple").

    Still, the main arguments I hear are financial ones - in a nutshell, children are expensive.
    If this is true, why did our ancestors have so many? Were they simply imprudent? Or where they taking into account that infant mortality rates were high? And how much does our idea of "quality of life" (such a nebulous concept) factor into having children?
    I think we live in so hypersexualized a society that we've forgotten that children are the natural result of sexual relations. If you "have sex", then be prepared for the consequences, period.
    Too much emphasis is put on the importance of sexual relations in a couple's life, IMHO. Sex is sex; it's just another aspect of married life, not the be all end all, nor is it the only form of intimacy.

    Anyway, just my two pence.

    1. "I think a valid consideration would be in countries where the state intervenes in family affairs, is there the risk of the state taking one's child away (and even giving it to be adopted by a gay "couple")."
      And the countries where this doesn't happen are ....?

    2. 3rd world?

      Anyway, after further reflection, perhaps even that isn't a "valid" reason...

    3. Is Norway 3rd world? Or.Sweden? Or USA? Can your State take your kids away upon observation? Now maybe you still have decent people who observe but in Norway Barnevernet is 100% gay giving. Also add UK to the list of favoring gay couples because..just because.
      In Erithreea the biggest dictatorship in the world.. people flee to Etiopia from there.. the state runs evrything. It is said to be even worse than North Korea. Nobody will ever care for Erithreea because their land is bare. There you can only leave the army and work if the ruler allows. Yet the irony is...does Erithreea send kids to gay people because they noticed a bruise in your kid at school? No, Norway does.
      So what is 3rd world? Such a huge question...

  7. Oh the calendar method? Yet here I am. :-D

  8. Does the Church still pronounce itself on the liceity of having relations with one's spouse, for example, either when she is pregnant or with menses? I recall that, at least in Medieval times, it was forbidden. I'm curious if that prohibition is still valid or not.

    1. Forbidding conjugal action at certain times and for a wide variety of reasons was a common moral injunction in the Middle Ages. It even appears in various medieval texts like the poem "Piers Ploughman." However, I don't think it ever reached the level of "Church teaching" in the technical sense. Moralists were eager to promote celibacy and to temper married life according to that standard, but St. Paul recommends married couples not remaining apart for very long, even for the sake of spiritual practices. I do not think that the relevant restrictions on married life from the Mosaic law were believed to have carried over into the Christian age, either.

    2. I've actually found St. Thomas commenting on this. He said there were two reasons for the prohibition of intimacy with a woman during her menses: one was ceremonial, the other moral. The ceremonial no longer applies. As for the moral, he distinguished between natural and unnatural menstruation (an example of the latter is the woman with the issue of blood). St. Thomas said a man could know a woman with unnatural menstruation because she could not conceive; as for natural, he said that it was not legitimate on moral grounds because (it was believed) that a child conceived during that period (no pun intended) would be born sickly.