Rudd’s third argument for the Catholic Church’s “flawed, incomplete, and destructive” understanding of Marriage is titled, “Birth Control”. Rudd continues:
III. Birth Control:
Roman Catholic church [sic] has a prohibition against birth control. Such is as [sic] anti-Biblical [sic] as it is hypocritical. This prohibition is again based upon an incomplete definition of the purpose of marriage. Hypocritically, the Roman Catholic church [sic] actually teaches birth control is OK [sic], as long as it involves nothing artificial like condoms, pills etc. [sic] The average Roman Catholic married woman is instructed to use the rhythm method where she takes her body temperature to determine the day she ovulates. Then she avoids sex for two days before and after her ovulation day. But this is not only hypocritical double talk, [sic] since birth control is the act of having sex without the desire for children, it contradicts the entire foundation upon which the Roman Catholic church [sic] forbade birth control in the first place: There [sic] are only two purposes of marriage. Since the Pope [sic] teaches the only time you can have sex is to make children, then the only time a Catholic woman could have sex, [sic] is during her “three fertile days” of the month. The Roman Catholic position on birth control is shown to be silly and outrageous because Catholic “pew dwellers” generally ignore such man made [sic] rules from leaders, who themselves are not married. But if a Catholic did follow the teaching of the Pope [sic], then she would use the thermometer to determine when she ovulates and have sex only during that fertile 4 [sic] day window.
I will begin with an analogy about a subject Fundamentalists might already understand as disordered—a subject they might not have a predisposition towards enjoying. Bulimia is an eating disorder in which food is consumed and then vomited. In His wisdom, God created food to nourish our bodies. He gave food taste, and it is pleasing to us. God designed the taste of food and the physical satisfaction it gives us when we eat it. However, bulimia is a disorder where people separate the pleasure of eating food with its primary purpose of nourishment. As it is with our approach to God’s design of food, practicing Catholics appeal to God’s design and His word for a more complete, biblical understanding of Marriage. Fundamentalism, however, insist that the Catholic Church is “unbiblical” and “hypocritical”, “silly and outrageous”.
The only occasion birth control is explicitly addressed within the biblical text is found in the book of Genesis; but I must first explain what birth control is and is not, because, apparently, most of the Protestant world is confused about the term. Sloppy vocabulary leads to sloppy theology, and an understanding of the vocabulary will illustrate, in itself, how the Catholic Church is not “hypocritical”.
The Catholic Church does not prohibit birth control as Protestantism (in this case) defines it, which is any means of avoiding conception—even abstinence. What the Catholic Church prohibits, more accurately, is artificial contraception. In His wisdom, God created natural means for family planning; and in his pursuit of lust and domination, mankind with its modern Protestant communities have developed unnatural means for sexual recreation. The Catholic Church prohibits unnatural, artificial means to thwart conception. The Protestant understanding, not the Catholic understanding, of birth control is the act of managing (controlling) the unwanted, natural consequences of the sex act. The Catholic and reasonable understanding is that if there is no sex act to control, nor any potential conception to circumvent, then there is no birth control. Put differently, “control” is the managed attempt to thwart the natural order; there is no “control” when conception, by God’s design, might be impossible during certain times of a woman’s cycle. It would be as charitable as it is rare for a Protestant to address this important distinction. In short, Fundamentalism’s definition of “birth control” (as forced onto the Catholic practice of natural family planning), which means to “not have sex” is like saying, “defensive driving” is “not driving.”
Natural family planning—the Christian means of planning when to abstain from sex, in participation with God’s design, and with openness to the natural consequences of the union (there are no “accidents” in Catholic Christian Marriage)—is the method that Protestants call “hypocritical”. Is it hypocritical to prohibit artificial (contrary to God’s design) contraception, yet condone natural, God-given means of family planning? Within Catholic Marriage, Christians do not seek to thwart God’s design, nor force the marital union into one of consequence-avoiding recreation only (which is what Protestant-styled birth control is), and they do not thwart a conception that is not possible. Neither spouse denies “sex on demand” when both spouses are in agreement on how to—within God’s design—plan a family. So, there is no hypocrisy, only a more complete understanding of Marriage and of how God created human sexuality, and a desire to live within God’s natural law.
As for the Catholic Church’s “unbiblical” understanding of Marriage, Fundamentalism, in its effort to attack the Catholic Church, avoids what the Bible actually teaches about the subject. The Catholic Church, however, has a more “complete” understanding of Marriage and sex, partly because she is willing to acknowledge relevant biblical texts, which I will now address.
As I proceed, I will need to write in a bit more graphic way—a way that I, in truth, am less comfortable with. And this universal discomfort—which existed until modern times—is a sort of proof that the subject of birth control, with its adjoining spectrum of related subjects (though my Fundamentalist readers are most-likely unaware that there are related subjects), such as homosexuality and masturbation, are not of historical Christian virtue. Nonetheless, as discomforting as it is, the Bible does indeed describe the depravity of the subject(s).
Before 1930, when the Anglican Church decided to allow for artificial contraception, and the remainder of Protestantism followed, the entirety of Christianity—including Protestantism—was unified in its understanding of what is known as “the sin of Onan”—“Onanism”—the sin of unnatural intercourse and masturbation. The Bible reads:
But Er, Judah’s first-born, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him. Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD, and he slew him also (Genesis 38:7-10).
From Fundamentalism’s modern perspective, the entirety of Christianity up until the twentieth century suffered from an anti-sex, prudish disposition. Its confusion is stemmed firstly from its anti-Catholic bias, not any examination of the Catholic stance, and certainly not tempered by any pre-twentieth century Christian understanding of Onan’s deliberate, consequence-controlling sin.
Onan was legally bound to have relations with his brother’s widow in order to produce an heir. The Law states:
…her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her (Deuteronomy 25:5).
However, Onan had the legal right to refuse relations with his brother’s widow and accept a penalty. The penalty for refusal was not death, but public humiliation. The Bible reads:
…then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot, and spit in his face… (Deuteronomy 25:9).
But Onan was not publicly humiliated; God killed him! God slew him not for what modern Protestantism insists—for not doing something—but because of what he did: And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the LORD.
We know Onan was not killed for his refusal to produce an heir, which is what Protestantism demands, because Deuteronomy 25:9 clarifies what Onan’s punishment would have been if that were the case. Onan was killed for something he did, and what Onan did was deliberately thwart a natural consequence of sex: he spilled the semen on the ground. Onan tried to separate the natural order of procreation from sex. Onan chose sexual satisfaction without the responsibility that is required to please God. God killed him for his contraceptive mentality.
Historical Christianity has always understood how the Bible’s linguistic treatment of sex can allude to whether or not an act is pleasing to God. This detail is important, because it is contrary to modern Protestantism’s exegesis of the passage—that Onan’s sin was not one of control, but that he refused to conceive an heir for his brother. Fr. Brian Harrison wrote an excellent essay on the subject titled “The Sin of Onan Revisited” (Nov. 1996) in which he proved the already-known, the already-acknowledged, the already-orthodox exegesis of the passage. With overwhelming examples, he illustrates how the sacred writers’ choice of language alludes to what, precisely, was the sin of Onan. His exegetical insights include the following:
If simple refusal to give legal offspring to his deceased brother were, according to Genesis 38, Onan’s only offence, it seems extremely unlikely that the text would have spelt out the crass physical details of his contraceptive act (cf. v. 9). The delicacy and modesty of devout ancient Hebrews in referring to morally upright sexual activity helps us to see this. As is well-known, Scripture always refers to licit (married) intercourse only in an oblique way: “going in to”—one’s wife, (i.e., entering her tent or bedchamber, cf. vv. 8 and 9 in the Genesis text cited above, as well as Gen. 6: 4; II Sam. 16: 22; I Chron. 23: 7) or “knowing” one’s spouse (e.g., Gen. 4: 17; Luke 1: 34). When the language becomes somewhat more explicit – “lying with” someone,—or “uncovering [his/her] nakedness”—the reference is without exception to sinful, shameful sexual acts. And apart from the verse we are considering, the Bible’s only fully explicit mention of a genital act (the voluntary emission of seed) is in a prophetical and allegorical context wherein Israel’s infidelity to Yahweh is being denounced scathingly in terms of the shameless lust of a harlot (Ez. 23: 20).4
The sacred writers used delicate language to describe natural sex, and used explicit language to describe sexual acts that are detestable to God. The story of Onan, the language used to describe his detestable act, and God killing him for what he did, do not build a case for Protestantism’s desire for birth control; it is all support for the traditional, historical, Christian understanding that the use of any means to treat sex as recreation only is sinful—it is a case against Protestantism’s worldly desires.
Onan’s act (he spilled the semen on the ground) is related to other sexual sin: homosexual acts and the epitome of homosexuality’s essence, which is masturbation. Homosexual acts were punishable by death (cf. Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). As well, natural law (cf. Romans 1:26-27; 2:14) gives all mankind the knowledge that some sexual acts are against God’s will; self-sterilized pleasure-seeking is not congruent with the ancient precept: Be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:27-28; 9:1).
What binds Onan’s sin with homosexuality is not only their common capital punishment, but also the offense that is answered by their shared punishment. And what binds homosexuality with masturbation is their unnatural, sterile use of the genitals for pleasure in a manner that is counterproductive for their original purpose: procreative pleasure within a context of selfless love between husband and wife. The use of artificial contraception—of birth control—is closer to the self-loving acts of homosexual sex and masturbation than it is the historical Christian understanding of Marriage and sex. Birth control is a euphemism for masturbation—there just happens to be two people of the opposite sex present. In other words, it is projection for Protestants to slander Catholics who use their bodies as intended. Catholics do not believe sex is “dirty” (as Fundamentalists repeat); it is the selfish manner in which bodies are abused that practicing Catholics believe is dirty. A healthy, complete understanding of human sexuality is what Catholics strive for because God created us for happiness and holiness. Or, as the Catholic Church teaches, “…either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy” (CCC #2339).
The pleasure of sex is a gift from God, and it is most realized in the marital construct. Christian Marriage does not separate its pleasure from its purpose, and practicing Catholics use their gifts in an order that is pleasing to God. The Scriptures are a gift from God—and the Church—as well, and neither gift, explicitly nor implicitly, teaches that artificial contraception is Christian. The explicit teaching of Genesis 38, with its neighboring prohibitions on homosexual acts in Leviticus and the New Testament, offer explicit prohibitions against certain acts. Fundamentalism’s expectation for more explicit condemnation over its preference to indulge in self-sterilization, self-love intercourse, and mechanical, surgical, and chemical contraception, are as implicitly prohibited in the Scriptures as other sexual sins that Fundamentalists do not demand such explicit prohibition for: pornography, sado-masochism, and necrophilia; Fundamentalism’s battle for birth control is clearly not scripturally motivated.
Christian decency should go beyond—much more beyond—the world’s! Pro-life issues are not about abortion only, which Fundamentalists, thank God, are against. Pro-life issues saturate the nature of sexuality, not only its most atrocious form of birth control. Protestantism (non-Catholic Christianity at this time in history) is not as extreme as the world regarding abortion, but it overlaps the world in almost every sexual way: birth control, self-sterilization, divorce, and indulging in sexual acts for recreation only. Catholicism’s understanding of Marriage may seem “flawed” to Fundamentalists, but nobody can make an intelligent argument for its supposed “unbiblical” or “hypocritical” stance.