Further Reflections on Contraceptives and God's Graciousness

After thinking more on the issue of contraceptives, I finally came across this quote by Karl Barth on a blog by Scott Collins-Jones (a Ph.D student at PTS). Barth writes about the authorization that humans have (or do not have) to kill and eat animals, and I think what he says speaks in a profound way to the situation of birth control.
The slaying of animals is really possible only as an appeal to God's reconciling grace, as its representation and proclamation. It undoubtedly means making use of the offering of an alien and innocent victim and claiming its life for ours. Man must have good reasons for seriously making such a claim. His real and supposed needs certainly do not justify it. He must be authorised to do so by his acknowledgement of the faithfulness and goodness of God, who in spite of and in his guilt keeps him from falling as He saved Noah's generation from the flood and kept it even though it was no better as a result. Man sins if he does it without this authorisation. He sins if he presumes to do it on his own authority. He is already on his way to homocide if he sins in the killing of animals, if he murders an animal. He must not murder an animal. He can only kill it, knowing that it does not belong to him but to God, and that in killing it he surrenders it to God in order to receive it back from Him as something he needs and desires. The killing of animals in obedience is possible only as a deeply reverential act of repentance, gratitude and praise on the part of the forgiven sinner in face of the One who is the Creator and Lord of man and beast. (CD III.4, 354-55)
The point I was trying to make before is that we sin when we think that we have a natural right or authorization to use birth control simply because it is convenient for us to have this modern technology. What we fail to realize is that we can use this only because we acknowledge "the faithfulness and goodness of God." We sin if we presume to take these drugs on our own authority, without surrendering it God "in order to receive it back from [God] as something [we] need and desire."

I partially agree with Catholic moral theory that taking birth control is something that can be dehumanizing, though I do not think it is de facto dehumanizing. Many things in life can be dehumanizing, more things now than ever before. Capitalism, consumerism, militarism, patriotism, materialism, nationalism, etc. Life is dehumanzing when detached from God. Our life in this world "is possible only as a deeply reverential act of repentance, gratitude and praise on the part of the forgiven sinner." The moment we lose touch with the prayerful foundation for our very existence, we fall into the abyss. We are surrounded in the western world with conveniences that end up making life more inconvenient, with time-saving devices that only make our day more stressful. We live in an environment that expects these technologies as our human rights. Insofar as we succumb to this pressure -- of elevating ourselves, degrading others, and ignoring God -- we are in sin.

Taking birth control and killing animals are two very different acts, but the same principle undergirds them both: the faithfulness and graciousness of a God who loves us and gives us every good gift. Apart from our act of human surrender and God's act of gracious giving, our lives are empty and worthless. In these everyday acts of taking drugs and eating meat, we are given an opportunity to remind ourselves of the ultimate surrender and the ultimate giving: the surrender of our lives in the surrender of Jesus' life on the cross, and the giving of new life to each person in the raising of Jesus from the dead.

"For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it" (Mark 8:35).

Comments

Cynthia Nielsen said…
Perhaps this is oversimplifying things a bit, but doesn’t the issue of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of contraceptives essentially come down to whether there can be legitimate motives for engaging in intercourse (from the Christian perspective of course within the marriage covenant) other than the motive of procreation. In contrast with the RC position, Protestants have traditionally said that sexual pleasure is an equally legitimate motive for sexual intercourse, and that just as when God proclaimed his creation as good and with that procreation as good, so too sexual pleasure (again within the bond of marriage). Perhaps there is a bit of Platonistic disdain for the body at work in the RC understanding?

There are also arguments from the RC perspective that center on the inherent wrongness
of thwarting a natural, God-ordained process, as well as the wrongness of not trusting providence.
However, here it seems that the deeper issues have to do perhaps with how the two expressions of the
faith understand how human interaction with and transformation of nature is to take place and express
itself, as well as whether human initiative is contrary to faith in providence.

Interestingly, however, it is my understanding that many Catholics allow for natural family planning, which would itself seem to thwart providence as mentioned above. So perhaps for those of this persuasion is more an issue of whether one should use chemicals/drugs. This is understandable given that some of the drugs are arguably abortive. However, not all forms of contraception need be abortive in that sense.

Kind regards,
Cynthia

p.s. I am in no way trying to make light of the issues nor do I wish to speak uncharitably of the RC position, as I have many RC friends that hold this position dearly. I, do, however, disagree with the position, yet have much sympathy with the concerns that motivation the RC position.