Family and Society: November 2006 Archives

Quiverfull and NFP

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Last week, there was a largish buzz over this Newsweek article about a growing Protestant movement away from contraception.

You can imagine the kinds of discussions that resulted. One lively thread was (is) over at Amy Welborn's place. I chimed in there in three posts, and I'm reposting my comments (edited only for typos and grammar) here because they are a good summary of how I feel about NFP. I think some things I've said in the past would lead people to think I oppose it on principle. That's not the case, as I hope the following demonstrates:

Post 1:
First off, on the particular case of the quiverfull and like-minded movements - I'm ambivalent. I love that they want to be open to life, but I have a hard time getting excited about movements that take a single theme and give it a huge focus. It's too close to tribalism. I dislike labels when they're assumed as much as I dislike them when they're given.

Post 2:
Now, as to the idea, expressed obliquely by some, that my wife and I need to take a thermometer, a chart and maybe a reference book to bed with us in order to do God's will: that is simply offensive. We can do God's will just fine without being up to date on the daily mucous flow.

What I don’t see is a serious discussion of what’s wrong with abstaining. Paul says we shouldn't deprive our spouse of the marital act except to be more available to God for prayer. Well, if there are circumstances in a family's life that are serious enough to delay another pregnancy, wouldn't that be a great time to be more available to God in prayer?

Now, I refuse to judge particular families, precisely because the Church teaches that having recourse to the fertile periods is licit. But does licit mean "the best practice?" Is it better than contraception? Of course. Is it somehow morally obligatory? Prove it.

I don't have a beef with couples who use NFP. Though I see a tremendous temptation to misuse it, I don't see it as my place to judge particular families in particular circumstances. Maybe it's much easier than I think to avoid misusing it. Sure there are "easy cases" like the guy mentioned above who wanted more vacations, but those are few and far between. I have no malice towards those who use it.

My beef instead is with those who say that NFP is the higher road. Specifically, I'm talking about otherwise sane and wise public Catholics like Christopher "He expects us to use it" West and Greg "more effectively cooperate with God's Will" Popcak. Even Janet Smith says the word "providentialists" (a term I don’t really embrace probably due to my allergies to tribalism and labeling) with a derisive tone.

Yes, NFP is a great mercy for couples who have a serious reason not to have children, but the idea that it's somehow more in tune with God's plan is ludicrous. So, now that we have NFP we can be holier than people could, say, 300 years ago? Has there been this great path to sanctity that has been unavailable to families for centuries because we didn't have the right science?

I don't criticize any family who uses NFP - like I said: it is a great mercy that God has given us. But please don't criticize those who – when co-creating a new life is inadvisable – choose not to make use of the means of co-creating a new life.

Post 3:
One more thing with regard to the linked article.

The article says (with my emphasis): "Purists don’t permit even natural family-planning methods, such as tracking fertility cycles."

When I read that, I didn't automatically think that, when serious reasons to delay pregnancy arise, these people disregard those reasons. I did not assume that no NFP means recklessness. Some may, some may not. We need more information.

That is where I run into problems with NFP-as-the-norm. Refusing to track fertility cycles doesn't necessarily mean "have as many babies as you can." But if NFP is your norm, then it does; prayerfully abstaining isn't even on the radar. That is an error, and it comes as a direct result of the emphasis on NFP.

Again, I don't mean to assault those who practice NFP, but I have to defend what is - in light of scripture and tradition - a sound and venerable practice: abstaining. When NFP adherents and promoters think that those who don't use it are either contraceptive or irresponsible, they are simply in error. This error comes as a result of using their choice as the norm for all instead of as a licit method approved by the Church for serious situations.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Family and Society category from November 2006.

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