A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Contraception Debates Get Dirty: East versus West!

This is my final entry on the issue of the Torode's recent recantation of their anti-contracpetion book Open Embrace. I think I've probably said more than enough about what seems to have changed about the Torodes' position, and what they might be (from a Catholic perspective) getting wrong. Here I want to comment briefly on their references to Church tradition, because I feel that the letter could give a misleading impression. Here's the passage in question:

For starters, we joined the Greek Orthodox Church and are now in closer agreement with what some Orthodox have written on this topic (see The Sacrament of Love by Paul Evdokimov and Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective by John Meyendorff). The book we recently edited, Aflame: Ancient Wisdom on Marriage, reflects this, especially in that we have no quotes on sex from Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great -- three major fathers of the Western church, in whose writings you are hard-pressed to find anything positive about sex.

Someone unfamiliar with Eastern Orthodoxy or the Church fathers in general might read this and say "Oh, so the Eastern Orthodox aren't in favor of Natural Family Planning, and the only major fathers of the Church who were against contraception were those bad Western misogynists like Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great." In fact, both of these assumptions are are wrong.

First of all, there are a number of Eastern Orthodox theologians who are opposed to contraception. Some accept the use of NFP as permissible, while others advocate total abstinence for couples who need to avoid conceiving children. I'm no expert on Orthodox theology, but it is my understanding that there's quite a bit of disagreement about the issue of contraception. This article on Orthodox bioethics, which tends to be critical of the anti-contraception view, still makes it clear the seriousness of the disagreement:

Less agreement exists among Eastern Orthodox authors on the issue of contraception within marriage for the spacing of children or for the limitation of the number of children. Some authors take a negative view and count any use of contraceptive methods within or outside of marriage as immoral (Papacostas, pp. 13-18; Gabriel Dionysiatou). These authors tend to emphasize as the primary and almost exclusive purpose of marriage the birth of children and their upbringing. They tend to consider any other exercise of the sexual function as the submission of this holy act to unworthy purposes, i.e., pleasure-seeking, passion, and bodily gratification, which are held to be inappropriate for the Christian growing in spiritual perfection. These teachers hold that the only alternative is sexual abstinence in marriage, which, though difficult, is both desirable and possible through the aid of the grace of God. It must be noted also that, for these writers, abortion and contraception are closely tied together, and often little or no distinction is made between the two. Further, it is hard to discern in their writings any difference in judgment between those who use contraceptive methods so as to have no children and those who use them to space and limit the number of children.

Other Orthodox writers have challenged this view by seriously questioning the Orthodoxy of the exclusive and all-controlling role of the procreative purpose of marriage (Zaphiris; Constantelos, 1975). Some note the inconsistency of the advocacy of sexual continence in marriage with the scriptural teaching that one of the purposes of marriage is to permit the ethical fulfillment of sexual drives, so as to avoid fornication and adultery (1 Cor. 7:1-7). Most authors, however, emphasize the sacramental nature of marriage and its place within the framework of Christian anthropology, seeing the sexual relationship of husband and wife as one aspect of the mutual growth of the couple in love and unity. This approach readily adapts itself to an ethical position that would not only permit but also enjoin sexual relationships of husband and wife for their own sake as expressions of mutual love. Such a view clearly would support the use of contraceptive practices for the purpose of spacing and limiting children so as to permit greater freedom of the couple in the expression of their mutual love.
See the Stephanos Project for an anti-contraception view of the matter. In short, I think the Torodes are misrepresenting their new Church's position to the extent that they imply that Orthodox theologians are generally in agreement with their new beliefs.

I am more concerned, however, with the comment about the authors which were included in Aflame, the Torodes' compilation of Patristic teaching on marriage. The implication seems to be that in excluding Augustine, Jerome, and co. the Torodes were giving a sort of advance signaling of their change of mind about sexuality. Further, the letter suggests that the authors they do quote in Aflame support their new position rather than their old one. What they don't say is that the theologian they quote most often in Aflame is John Chrysostom. Chrysostom did speak very postively about marriage- but he continued to link sexuality and sexual unity to procreation. More importantly, he strenuously opposed the use of contraceptive potions and mutilation for the purpose of sterilization. (You can find these references online here, among other places.) Many see in John Chrysostom's writings on the unity of marriage the foundation for John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Chrysostom, like John Paul II, saw sexuality as good both in terms of the bond it created, and in terms of the fruit of that bond in the form of offspring. Chrysostom is, therefore, a theologian whose work ultimately supports the position the Torodes have rejected.

The Torodes may feel that they are not defying the teaching of John Chrysostom because they are advocating neither oral contraceptives nor sterilization. However, in advocation barrier methods and "Sensual massage," they are contradicting the teachings of Clement of Alexandria, who, in another oft-quoted passage, wrote:

"Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted" ( 2:10:91:2 [A.D. 191]).

Clement is quoted several times throughout Aflame. He has a number of positive things to say about marriage. Nevertheless, he is clearly one the side of the "Western" view that privileged procreation. I don't mean to say that anyone should accept everything Clement taught about marriage and sexuality. (Modern Catholic theologians would not agree with him that sexuality is only for the purpose of procreation, for instance.) What I am saying is that, with regard to Patristic views on marriage and sexuality, the situation is far more complicated than the "Open Letter" would imply. In fact, the Torodes must have realized this when they put together Aflame, because the truth is that they do quote Augustine of Hippo on marriage, though not on the subject of sex. On page 75, they have a single, short quote from the great Latin doctor:

"At Cana, Christ confirmed what He instituted in Paradise."

Short and simple, isn't it? I'm glad that they found something good on marriage in the writings of Augustine. I wish they had admitted it in their "Open Letter." Instead, they went in for the cheap shot of making it sound as if the Western tradition were primarily anti-pleasure, and as if the Eastern tradition were entirely accepting of contraception. Neither of these claims is true. Sam and Bethany have the right to reject their earlier view of contraception, and they have on obligation to inform their readers of the change, but I wish they'd do it without (implicitly) turning the matter into an "East versus West, our tradition's best" battle. There is too much of that in the religious world as it is.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Double effect for condom usage?

Ironically, just as I'm in the midst of wrapping up a series on the contraception-NFP debate, I discover some rumors that the Vatican may make a statement allowing the use of condoms for disease prevention purposes in the case of AIDs infection. See The Cafeteria is Closed for more details.

In many ways, it would make sense for condoms to be allowed for use in disease prevention. After all, birth control pills are allowed as medical treatments for women with various reproductive disorders. Moralists are split as to whether women should abstain while on the pill for medical reasons, but there's a healthy chunk of orthodox Catholic thinkers who believe that abstinence isn't necessary, because the double effect allows a woman to take the pill to treat her endo even though it will have an unwanted contraceptive effect on marital intercourse. In the same way, a man who is HIV positive might desire the disease-prevention effect of a condom but not the contracepted aspect. The contracepted aspect of condom useage would be a necessary but undesired side effect, and it would seem that the double effect would allow the use of a condom.

In the past, however, Catholics (including myself) have argued that the double effect doesn't actually apply in such cases, because "condomistic intercourse" is inherently not unitive in the way marital intercourse is meant to be. It is not a true, one-flesh union, but a rejection of such union. (I have to say that I argued for that position before I was married, for whatever that's worth.) At this point, I'm not personally opposed to allowing condoms for AIDS prevention among married couples. I think there may be great wisdom in it.

However, I also worry that this move might make the Catholic position on contraception seem less coherent. Will allowing the use of condoms for disease prevention "muddy the waters" and make it harder to argue that barrier methods prevent full unity? Or will it just seem more consistent, given that Catholic couples are already allowed to use "slotted condoms" for collecting fluids for fertility testing, as well as menstrual "barriers" which may resemble diaphraghms but don't have contraceptive effect. If such seeming barriers do not, in fact, pose a barrier to marital unity, why not condoms used for disease prevention?

In any event, these are just rumors. We'll just have to wait and see what the Magisterium does.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Today's Guest: "An Open Letter"

Welcome to Part III of my series on "An Open Letter About Open Embrace" recently published on the web by Sam and Bethany Torode, authors of the book Open Embrace. I am your host, Teresa/Spacemouse/Selkie, and in today's episode, we'll be considering the Torodes' change of stance with regard to the use of barrier methods and non-intercourse sexual actions.

First, let's look at what the Torodes said about this subject in their book, written in 2001. They don't talk about barrier methods in detail, but they first define contraception this way:

". . . by "contraception" we mean any process, devisce, or action whose purpose is to prevent the meeting of sperm and egg when a couple engages in intercourse" (8).

This clearly includes "sensual massage" and barrier methods. Regarding the morality of these actions, they wrote:

"We aren't concerned here with the question of whether contraception, as defined above, is intrinsically evil or sinful. We should say that it's not ideal. Rather than pointing fingers, we want to point to a better way."

I think this second statement is important to highlight, because many people have been talking about the Torodes' new stance as if it were a complete about-face; as if they had once condemned all contracepted intercourse as intrinsically sinful. In fact, as the quotation above illustrates, they weren't willing to go that far in Open Embrace.

However, in their book they did clearly endorse not only the language of the Theology of the Body, but the language which appeared in Humanae Vitae about the inseperability of the unitive and procreative aspects of sexuality:

". . .while sex is not solely for conception, it is not our place to deliberately separate sex from its procreative aspect" (30).

I single this line out because this, prior to the Theology of the Body, this was the major philosophical undergirding of the Catholic rejection of contracepted intercourse. It is still an extremely important concept in Catholic sexual ethics. The Torodes themselves once held this belief, as Open Embrace shows. But their "Open Letter" doesn't address it at all. Apparently, they no longer believe this, but they don't explicitly state that they have rejected it, nor do they give grounds for why.

I understand that the text I'm analyzing so obsessively was just a short letter announcing their change of mind. It was not intended to comprehensively explain why the authors no longer believed X, Y, and Z. But this is important stuff we're dealing with here, and it surprises me that the Torodes don't really address the unitive-procreative connection. After all, in Open Embrace, they wrote:

"As married persons, our part is to remain open to children, by becoming one flesh and refusing to compromise that union. This is not to say that every time a couple makes love, they should be trying to conceive. . . . But every time husband and wife come together, they ought to do so in earnest, in an open embrace, witholding nothing from each other- including their fertility." (24-25)

This is where the title of the book came up, so it seems it must have been central to their understanding of marital sexuality in 2001. What do they say about this in their 2006 letter? Not much. This is their new position:

We still believe in the "language of the body"--which informs our rejection of some aspects of NFP. How is it that spouses are saying "yes" to the gift of each other when they end up abstaining for much of their married lives (from the aforementioned breastfeeding cycles, pregnancy exhaustion, or energy being diverted into raising kids)? We also see honest congruity with the language of the body by saying "no" to conception with our bodies (via barrier methods or sensual massage) when our minds and hearts are also saying "no" to conception. We don’t believe this angers God, nor that it leads to the slippery slope of relativism or divorce. We strongly disagree with the Catholic Church that this is a mortal sin.

There's nothing in the above paragraph about the need not to withold anything in the marital embrace. They have rejected the idea of an embrace needing to be "open," but without explicitly saying it. Given that Open Embrace was the title of their book, this omission seems odd.

I am probably reading things into the text that aren't there, but to me, their logic seems to go like this (apologies to readers who have already seen the following outlines in one of my posts at the NFP forum!):

1) It is permissable for a couple to decide not to conceive a child, to say "no" to conception. This is consistent with their earlier stance; it was what set them apart from Providentialist or Full Quiver thinkers.

2) The actions of the body should match the intentions of one's mind. This, again, is consistent with Open Embrace. They draw this claim from the Theology of the Body, which talks about the importance of what are actions speak.

3) When a couple decides not to conceive -when the couple says "no" to conception- the action of their body should match their words. Thus, at this time it is permissable to use actions which say no to conception, such as barrier methods or non-intercourse sexual actions.

The problem is that though the Torodes claim they are still influenced by the idea of the language of the body, they are missing the point. As the first half of the above paragraph highlighted in red indicates, they have rejected a key part of the Theology of the Body, which is that it is not permissable to withold part of one's self in the sexual action. Though it is permissable to say "I don't think we should have a child now" it is not permissable to say: "I want to be one with all of you except your fertility." As the Torodes themselves once said:

"To our minds, anything less than a true one-flesh union fails to represent the completely self-giving love of Christ for the Church. This is why we believe that when a husband and wife have serious reasons to avoid pregnancy, it's better to abstain for a time than to diminish the meaning and mystery of sex" (25).

In a previous entry, I discussed the problem with their reasoning that a couple says "no" much of their life. Here, I simply want to repeat that saying "yes" to the gift of one's spouse does not mean having as much marital intercourse as is possible. To imply that is to twist the language of the body completely. What the Theology of the Body says about NFP and contraception is actually this:

I) The act of marital intercourse always constitutes an invitation to conceive a child. That meaning is inherently written into the body, and is not affected by a couple's conscious motives in seeking marital intercourse.

II) It is permissable to choose not to invite conception, to choose not to say yes to a child. The language of your body may reflect that decision not to invite a child by abstaining from issuing the invitation at a time when it is likely to be fulfilled. There is, further, nothing wrong with monitoring a woman's natural cycle to know when such an invitation would be likely to be fulfilled. But even when a couple does this -even when a couple uses NFP to try to avoid conception- their marital intercourse at infertile times still inherently says "yes" to the possibility of a child.

III) It is not permissable for the language of the body to be conflicted, by saying both "yes" to a child (through having intercourse) and "no" at the same time, through rendering the act sterile.
Thus, it is never permissable to use barriers or non-intercourse sexual actions which render conception impossible. Such usage of contracepted intercourse constitutes an inherent contradiction in the very language of the body.

My point is that the Theology of the Body is not simply about whether your desire to have or not to have a child is matched by the sexual action being either open or closed to conception. This is what the Torodes seem to be saying, but they ignore or reject the fact that, according to the Theology of the Body, contracepted intercourse involves an inherent contradiction in what one's body is saying. It is not just a matter of body and mind being in agreement, but in the language of the body itself needing to be consistent.

I suspect that the Torodes may have rejected point #I above, the idea that the sexual act inherently constitutes an invitation to conception. This claim is a sticking-point for many who disagree with the Catholic perspective on family planning. However, if that's the case, it would have been nice if they had clarified it, as this is a central part of the language of the body. Clearly, they now reject point III, too, in that they no longer see barriers as constituting a contradiction in the body's language- or if so, they no longer see that contradiction as morally problematic.

That's about all we have time for today. Tune in next time, when I attempt to finish up this series with a brief look at the invocation of Eastern and Western tradition on the subject of contraception. And then, I promise, I'll post that long-awaited entry on ghosts!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Embracing the Cross of Abstinence

We've been discussing the Torodes' Open Letter over at the Delphi Natural Family Planning board. Most reactions have been very negative, as one might expect on a forum devoted to NFP use, and I've learned quite a bit from commentors who are personally familiar with Orthodoxy or with the theologians the Torodes cite. I recommend this thread to all interested in the situation. Despite having made a number of comments on the letter there, I'm going to try doing a closer analysis here. In this post, I will focus on the Torodes' comments about abstinence in NFP use. In the next post, I will address their defense of contracepted intercourse, by which I mean any sexual act which is actively and deliberately rendered sterile. I may or may not comment on the strange "anti-Western" bias in their letter. (I am, after all, aware that I still haven't finished my "ghosts" series, and it's been some time since I've posted a slow cooker recipe.)

First of all, let me say that the Torodes are right that Open Embrace was too idealistic. They wrote the book before ever having had to use NFP to avoid conception: in fact, they conceived on their honeymoon. Thus, as they now admit, not having used NFP, they had unrealistic ideas about the amount of abstinence required to use NFP properly. They were also unaware of the ways the method could strain a marriage. Though they presented arguments for NFP beautifully, I don't think they were able to sympathize with the situation of those who find NFP difficult. And it seems that they themselves were unprepared for the rough times of NFP. They write:

Though Open Embrace said that it only involves a short period of abstinence, we didn’t know that during breastfeeding cycles it often involves month-long periods of abstinence and dehabilitating stress. During such times (as well as during menopause and stressful life seasons), strict NFP reaches a point where it is more harmful for a marriage than good.

What they don't seem to realize about the above quote is that it is still making theological assumptions. Namely, it assumes that the use of barrier methods or non-intercourse sexual practices are less harmful to a marriage than long periods of abstinence. There's a problem with this logic, given that they are addressing the letter to people who view contracepted intercourse as inherently wrong: since sin is always harmful to a relationship, their idea that barrier methods are better for a marriage than abstinence only follows if you have already proven that using such methods is not sinful. If contracepted intercourse is sinful (as Catholic theology says), then it will always harm a marriage seriously, even if the harmful effects are not always visible. But they haven't first proven that such methods are not sinful. Rather, they are arguing backwards, and saying that they must be permissable because pure abstinence is too harmful. This doesn't work, though: as Christians, we do not determine what is moral based on what is easiest for people to do or what seems less stressful. If that's how Christians thought, we'd have no history of martyrdom, no religious vocations, and, I suspect, a lot less chastity overall.

The problem the Torodes faced is that NFP does require sacrifice, and they may not have realized that when they jumped into the Theology of the Body feet first. NFP requires the users to say: "God, I will put my honoring you above everything else, including something which seems like it would be good for my marriage." Of course, the Torodes may feel that if it turns out to be true that God is not dishonored by contracepted intercourse, then the sacrifice of NFP is all for naught. Some people might still argue against them, on the grounds that such sacrifice, such asceticism, is good even when it is not necessary. Though I don't have room to consider this angle thoroughly, I think it's a point which needs to be made.

In any event, the Torodes try to prove the moral acceptability of contracepted intercourse in one paragraph, some of which I will analyze in my next post. However, the first part of this crucial paragraph is a criticism of abstinence on the grounds that it denies the gift of self encouraged by the Theology of the Body. As such, it's worth examining here:

We still believe in the "language of the body"--which informs our rejection of some aspects of NFP. How is it that spouses are saying "yes" to the gift of each other when they end up abstaining for much of their married lives (from the aforementioned breastfeeding cycles, pregnancy exhaustion, or energy being diverted into raising kids)?

First of all, it is unfair to lump the last two points into a criticism of NFP. The reality is that spouses don't get to have sex all the time no matter what method of family planning they use. During and after pregnancy, women may be forced to abstain for health reasons unrelated to family planning method. Even childless couples may get exhausted from the pressures of work, volunteering, or health problems. Furthermore, mismatches in libido are fairly common in marriage and may result in a lot of apparent "no's" to the gift of the body. Saying "yes" to the gift itself is not, then, a matter of having as much marital intercourse as is humanly possible. It is also an attitude of the heart. It is a way of approaching the body; a way of reading marital intercourse in connection with its broader purpose in uniting a couple. A couple whose sexual life were ended due to health problems would not be saying "no" to the gift of self. Nor does a couple who must abstain even for a few months -whether on account of health problems, difficult cycles, or even Eastern Orthodox fasting regulations- say "no" at that time. Rather, they say (or should say): "Not now."

While I'm on the subject of abstinence, let me address this point:

Yes, we are marred by sin, but God has given us new hearts with his image strongly growing in them -- which means our deepest desires are true and good (see Waking the Dead by John Eldredge). One example: wanting to make love to your spouse often is a good thing, but NFP often lays an unfair burden of guilt on men for feeling this.

To me, the guilt described here indicates a fundamental problem of the heart, not a problem of NFP. The Torodes are absolutely right in saying that such desires are good. God intends for men to desire their wives. (For that matter, God intends for wives to desire their husbands.) There is no need for an NFP-using husband to feel guilty about his desire for his wife, just as (thanks to my husband for the analogy!) there is no need for someone who is fasting to feel guilty about being hungry. Hunger is natural, and choosing not to eat does not equate to saying "it's bad to want food." I don't deny that that may be the motive in some people's fasting, but it is the wrong motive. Likewise, NFP is not about abstaining because desire is bad. It is about saying:"This desire I have is good, and it would be good to act on it, but at this point in time, the resulting conception would not be prudent. We will honor God by waiting to act on this desire."

I am not sure exactly what is meant by "guilt" but I speculate that it indicates a line of thought like this: "NFP is a wonderful God-given method of family planning. I shouldn't be frustrated with it. I shouldn't desire my wife so much, because this is what God intends. My desire must run counter to God's will." If this was the line of thought, then it seems to me that there are two errors. First, such a line of thought ignores the fact that it is, as indicated above, possible to give up a good thing which one desires while saying: "I desire this because it is good. It is natural for me to keep desiring it, but I will order that desire by choosing not to fulfill it at this point for X reason." If the Torodes assumed that because NFP was "designed by God," it would never mean desiring not to abstain, they were wrong. They may be right to say that they had a serious misunderstanding about the goodness of human desires. Still, what was needed was a change in thinking about NFP, not a rejection of NFP.

The other thing they may not be taking into account is Original Sin. By this, I DON'T mean that it is sinful or fallen for a man to desire his wife while they are forced to abstain because of long post-partum cycles. Rather, I mean that the very situation such a couple is in -that of needing to delay conception, the failure of breastfeeding itself to provide adequate infertility, confusing signs of returning fertility- was itself a result of the Fall. I honestly can't imagine quite how reproduction and sexuality would have been integrated in a prelapsarian world, but I am certain that couples would not have had these problems in such an ideal world. Unfortunately for all of us, we don't live in an ideal world. Many of the frustrations of married life are the result of fallenness, which is not to say that they are always the result of personal sin.

Perhaps the Torodes had difficulty in determining the difference between the two categories of personal sin and the general fallenness of the world. Perhaps they encountered the fallenness in the very make-up of the world through the frustations of prolonged abstinence and misread that fallenness-induced-frustration as personal sin. Later, when they realized their mistake in calling good desire sin, they may have decided that they should satisfy their God-given desires and avoid their frustrations by abandoning periodic abstinence. In order to do so, they had to justify acceptance of contracepted intercourse, since they apparently aren't interested in taking a Full Quiver or Providentialist position. In my next post, I'll look at how they attempted to do that.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Rethinking Open Embrace

In 2001, Sam and Bethany Torode published a little paperback book called Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception. The book was, in a tiny way, revolutionary. It did actually change some people's theology with regard to the use of contraception. What concerns me more in this entry, though, is that the book gave Natural Family Planning (NFP) believers a resource which was non-sectarian. Before Open Embrace, there were (there still are) a number of anti-birth control books by conservative Protestant Christians, but most of them support a Full Quiver approach (what Catholics call "Providentialist"). Though people often confuse NFP use with Providentialism, the two are quite distinct, and adherents of one view generally don't endorse the other. In Be Fruitful and Multiply, for example, Nancy Campbell agreed that NFP was not as bad as other forms of birth control, but she still considered it unnatural and not what God intended. Other books by Protestants which did endorse Natural Family Planning (such as Debra Evans' Christian Woman's Guide To Sexuality) often did so outside of the broader theological context generally used by NFP advocates.

With the advent of Open Embrace, all that changed. There was now a book which argued for NFP use within the context of John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Catholics gave this book to their Protestant friends in order to explain some Catholic teachings on sexual ethics. The book was ideal for this purpose because, unlike most Catholic works on the subject, it was written to an audience that did not accept the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. For Catholic defenders of NFP, "because the Church said so" could always be the fallback answer to questions like "how do we know contraception is immoral?" and "how do we know that NFP use isn't the same as artificial methods of contraception?" In Open Embrace, by contrast, the Torodes had to begin by explaining their use of tradition to an audience not necessary accustomed to seeing Patristics used that way. It was the perfect book to recommend as a primer on the Theology of the Body and Natural Family Planning for non-Catholic readers.

Now we're in for another sea change or miniature revolution, because the Torodes have effectively disowned much of the content of the book. In an earlier "Open Letter about Open Embrace" they asked readers to take it with "a grain of salt" on account of their idealism and legalism. Their website currently contains a longer explanation as to why they no longer hold the views they held when they wrote Open Embrace. They now recommend Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) rather than NFP- which means, essentially, that they advocate the use of barrier methods of contraception or the substitution of non-intercourse sexual practices during the fertile period, rather than complete abstinence, and they clearly reject the Catholic teaching on the immorality of both of these actions.

Fans of Open Embrace are going to have to make some decisions about how or whether to use the book in light of the Torodes' change of heart. There are a number of questions I think their "Open Letter" raises. One is about integrity: is it honest to continue passing this book out if one knows that the authors no longer stand by what they wrote? In some ways, this does seem dishonest: it reminds me of Anglicans who cite John Henry Newman's "three branch" view of the Church to explain the status of the Anglican Communion as equal to the Orthodox and Catholic Communions without adding that Newman later rejected that view. Certainly, it seems to me that Open Embrace fans, if they continue to recommend the book, must advise their recommendees of the Torode's change of heart. (In the same way, I think it should be admitted that they are no longer a "Protestant couple" because they entered the Orthodox Church shortly after writing the book.)

There are additional problems which may arise now in regard to using or recommending Open Embrace. If one uses the book as supporting evidence to argue that NFP isn't only used by Catholics, one may expect knowledgeable opponents of NFP to respond with "Ah, but the Torodes changed their minds once they actually tried the method." It may be worth asking: is it better to simply set the book aside? More importantly, I think we should ask: are there fundamental flaws in the Torodes' thinking about sexuality which resulted in their abandonment of the NFP-only stance? If that is the case, it would be better not to recommend the book simply because readers convinced by it might, like the Torodes, abandon the position when the road got a little rockier than expected.

In a later post, I intend to examine the Torode's "Open Letter on Open Embrace" and offer some criticism of the letter, as well as some of my own suggestions on how to respond to the situation, but for now I simply invite readers to read the letter for themselves. How would you respond?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"Just Because I Care. . ."

I recently took up the hobby of rubberstamping. By "took up the hobby" I mean that I bought a lot of stamping supplies, many of which I have not even tried out yet, and by "rubberstamping" I mostly mean papercrafting. There are other kinds of projects one can do using rubber stamps, but I'm not really interested in stamping on my walls, particularly given that I rent. Nor am I interested in scrapbooking, though I think a lot of scrapbooker use stamps. Rather, I got into stamping because I believed I could save money making cards, wrapping paper, gift bags, and gift labels. I still believe this to be true (if you need proof, go to Michaels and compare the cost of plain white gift bags and labels to the cost of the same items from Hallmark), but the way things look now, it might take me a few decades before the hobby actually saves money, given that I only buy a few dollars' worth of cards a year. Ah, well. At least now when people ask if I have any hobbies or do any crafts, I can claim to be a stamper. That's worth something, isn't it?

Today I actually used some of my stamps, including some larger stamps I'd not had occasion to use in my foray into bookmark-making. As I tried to figure out which platitude to use for today's stamping project, one of my new stamps struck me. It's a picture of a bouquet of flowers, interspersed with little hearts. I rather liked the picture: it was the sentiment below that troubled me. This stamp says "Just because I care. . . " and today that struck me as entirely the wrong sentiment for almost any cardmaking occasion I could think of.

Repeat it after me: "Just because I care. . . " Notice something? There's nothing about the recipient of the stamping project in that statement. There's an implied "for/about you," of course: what the statement really means is "Just because I care about you, I'm giving you this whatever." But even with that "you" in place, the statement is really about the maker of the gift and how much she cares (let's face it, this is not a craft men do, and we need not use inclusive language). Frankly, it almost sounds like the cardmaker/giftgiver is patting herself on the back for being caring enough to stamp a piece of cardstock for someone.

Well, I have a pretty high opinion of myself, but I see no reason to immortalize my pride by sending people cards explaining just how much I care. If the gift itself doesn't implicitly speak of caring, then it failed, and no platitude on the tag or the card is going to fix the problem.

Of course, one could question the very Hallmark industry of cards, gift labels, wrapping paper, etc in the same way. Why do we feel the need to send gifts (and to make them look nice)? Do we do it for the recipient, or is always in some way also for ourselves? Is there such a thing as altruism? And what if the giver is someone whose primary love language is gift-giving, but the recipient isn't a gift person at all. What does it all mean then? Doesn't real love always seek to speak the language of the beloved, not the lover?

Fortunately for you, my readers, I will not attempt to answer any of these questions. But be warned: if ever you get a card from me that says "Just because I care. . ." you'll know that something has gone horribly wrong. I suggest you check for snipers across the street.