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The Catholic Bishops' Views About Contraception and Abortion in the First Trimester Are Ridiculous

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Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) November 19, 2009 -- In their new pastoral letter "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" the Catholic bishops are once again up to no good as they reaffirm the ridiculous moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church against artificial contraception and abortion in the first trimester. Acting as though they somehow understand the divine plan for humanity, the bishops declare that artificial contraception is somehow "intrinsically evil" and so is abortion in the first trimester. Thus everybody who uses artificial contraception has failed to figure out that it is intrinsically evil, and every woman who has had a legal abortion in the first trimester has failed to figure out that it was intrinsically wrong.

In theory, the Catholic bishops are asexual virgins dedicated to live lives of celibacy. The theory supporting Roman Catholic teachings about sexual morality is known as theological anthropology. Like philosophic dialectic, theological anthropology (i.e., view of humanity and the human condition) aims to clarify thought -- our thinking about the divine plan regarding the human condition, as the subtitle of their pastoral letter indicates.

It is arguably worthwhile to undertake to imagine a theological anthropology, as an idealization, or a set of idealizations. In contemporary philosophy, the materialist philosopher Jurgen Habermas has undertaken to think through idealizations for an ethics of discourse. I would suggest that theological anthropology is best understood as also attempting to think through idealizations about the human condition. In short, I think that proposed idealizations can serve a useful conceptual function by providing us with a clear framework for arguing and judging whether or not certain specific human actions measure up and pass muster.

But before we proceed to apply the proposed idealizations to see what measures up, we should first examine the proposed idealizations. In short, do the proposed idealizations with which the Catholic bishops work in their theological anthropology measure up and pass muster as idealizations? Or are their proposed idealizations themselves of questionable value? I, for one, question the value of the idealizations with which the Catholic bishops work.

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To avoid certain misunderstandings, I want to spell out the I hold a nonmaterialist philosophic position. Like the German-born American philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985), I hold a position of theistic humanism, as distinct from secular (i.e., atheistic) humanism. As mentioned, Habermas holds a materialist philosophic position, so he is properly considered to represent secular humanism.

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the most virtuous human condition is imagined as asexual virginity that is not just anhedonic in spirit but anti-sexual in spirit. This is an example of an idealization with which the Catholic bishops work. Human sexuality is part of our animal nature, which must be properly curbed in this life on earth before the final resurrection, as it will be in the final resurrection. Our animal nature is so strong in this life that it could easily give way to hedonism. In the Roman Catholic tradition, all forms of sexual pleasure are considered to be hedonistic in spirit.

Of course there is the mundane matter of human reproduction until the final resurrection. After all, women must continue to provide a supply of boys who can grow up to become part of the all-male priesthood and all-male hierarchy in the Roman Catholic Church.

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In the theological anthropology of the Roman Catholic Church, human reproduction is to be carried out through sexual intercourse in marriage. Moreover, human reproduction through sexual intercourse in marriage is deemed to be good. As a matter of fact, it is deemed to be so good that no artificial contraception should be allowed to interfere with the possibility of human reproduction in sexual intercourse in marriage.

In his 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI figured that each act of marital intercourse should be open God's creative act of conception through natural processes. But by definition, artificial contraception blocks, or attempts to block, natural processes through which conception occurs.

But hold on! What's wrong with trying to block conception? As the bishops are preparing to say, it is intrinsically evil. Got that? Now you don't have any questions about that, do you? Thank goodness Paul VI's encyclical is not infallible, because it was not promulgated as an infallible declaration. Had it been, Roman Catholics would have been forbidden from questioning it and would have no free choice about whether to accept it or not -- if you can imagine such a thing.

As you may have surmised, I find the entire idea of an infallible declaration hard to imagine. But nineteenth-century bishops did not when they voted to make this possibility the official theory of the Roman Catholic Church about the powers of the pope. However, Paul VI's ban of artificial contraception is not an infallible declaration, so Roman Catholics and others may question it, as I undertake to question it in the present essay.

In any event, the supposedly right thing for a Catholic couple to do is to keep each act of marital intercourse open to God's creative act of conception through natural processes. So let's examine this line of thinking.

In this line of thinking, God's creative act of conception is thought to be so awesome that it should be accepted without question. But why? Why not question it? Shouldn't a woman have the right to decline conception? After all, it's her body. If she does not have the right to decline conception, doesn't her lack of consent to conception make conception tantamount to rape by God through the natural processes of reproduction? Why should we hold natural processes of reproduction in such awe and reverence?

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This question brings us to a far more delicate point about God's creative act in creating various forms of life through natural processes. By definition, God is the transcendent divine ground of being. No God, no existence. No God, no evolution. God is that ground of being without which there would have been no evolution.

As is well known, atheists deny the existence of God. But the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church don't. On the contrary, they affirm the existence of God. Good for them.

Next, we need to consider the two accounts of creation in the book of Genesis. The human authors of those two accounts understood no God, no existence. Good for them. But many people have read those two accounts in a somewhat static way -- as though God's creation is a done deal. But what if God's creation is not a done deal? What if each act of conception is an ongoing unfolding of God's creation? In short, God's creation has not stopped.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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