Thursday, September 6, 2007

Torodes and Contraception

I learned in an e-mail exchange with a reader that the Torodes, who wrote Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception, later re-rethought contraception. Scott Torode now seems to think that a view against contraceptive practices has at its roots an overly ascetic view of sexuality.

I read their book when it was new, and before their conversion to Orthodoxy. It would be true to say that I feel a little betrayed, but really I have no right to be. I should have borne in mind when I read their book that they were very young authors, and not in a teaching office of a church, nor trained in theology.

This flip-flop is telling, though, about authority. When considering a moral question in the face of having to act against our will, we are in the worst possible position to judge morality. At these times it is most essential to submit to the teaching authority of our church. Who am I, as a 24 year-old newly-wed, to form the belief that the Fathers' understanding of sexuality over the centuries was aberrant (I'm older and not newly-wed, so am speaking hypothetically)?

This is no minor matter of Churchdom and morality either, and paints a clear target on the back of notions of our 'perspicuous' Scriptures. To take a fine example, the Birth Control Pill, which may be an abortifacient, is in wide and unrestrained use within Protestant circles. If it is a wrong act, it is horribly wrong - wrong at its core. But the Scriptures, being vague on this matter and open to individual interpretation, leave each person to do as he sees fit. (Judges 21:25, "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.") Not only are the young and desirous poor judges of morality, but their judgments may place in them in grave moral jeopardy.


Jim said...

Do you have any data on the use of the pill among RC couples relative to Protestant couples?

Thos said...

Objection, counsel is leading the witness... [Sustained.]

I do not "have" any such data, though I have read such in the past. Where I perceive you to be going may misstate the issue I was raising in my post though.

I have a HARD TIME (as in actively, daily, this is hard for me) following a moral principle (to not contracept) when I'm not certain I'm right, and my church tells me there's no problem with the act. The Catholic who chooses to use contraception has chosen to remove himself from submission to his church's teaching authority. IF (hypothetically) it is an illicit practice, on whose head does this sin fall? Who's letting God down?

And this was only an example. Morality in general is hard to debate, hard to settle, hard to follow. We need a NORMATIVE STANDARD, and it's hard for me to believe that, if certain acts are offensive to God at all, that he wouldn't give such a standard.

Jim said...


You may have read the question more tendentiously than I meant it. (But given our earlier interaction, I can't blame you.)

My impression is that use of the Pill is roughly equal in Protestant as well as Catholic couples, but I don't remember why I have that impression. I'd certainly be impressed, and would give the American Catholic church two and a half cheers, if use of the Pill was significantly lower among Catholic couples than Protestant ones.

But since you opened the door in your testimony, perhaps I might as well walk through it.

Your argument seemed to me to link the "wide and unrestrained use within Protestant circles" of the Pill to the fact that "the Scriptures, being vague on this matter and open to individual interpretation, leave each person to do as he sees fit."

But if use of the Pill is just as widespread among Catholic couples, then having, then it wouldn't seem to me that your causal story can be correct.

Thos said...


Thanks for the good comment - made me think quite a lot about this. Like you then, I only have a vague recollection of Pill use statistics. I just tried my hand on Google and came up with little. I know Catholic disobedience to their teaching on this is high. While I do not doubt that many Catholic women take the pill, I would be surprised if it's as many as Protestant women - simply because NFP is far more widly taught and subsumed into Catholic consciousness than in Protestant churches. People in my Reformed circle think I'm a nut for talking about the pill being bad - my Pastor had never heard the notion till I suggested it... this must translate into at least some minor statistical difference.

But I may be wrong, or the difference may be SO minor as to make your point just as valid. So let's suppose Pill use is roughly equal (and we're still stipulating the hypothetical that the Pill is objectively sinful).

You said, "But if use of the Pill is just as widespread among Catholic couples[...] then it wouldn't seem to me that your causal story can be correct."

This provoked a lot of thought. I have no great answer to give you, and you may be right. I guess I would say that even if 30% of women used the pill no matter their church (and we're still stipulating the pill as being an evil), in one case the Church has at least "bound [believers] on earth" against an evil (Mat 18:18), and they've chosen to do it anyway, and in the other the church/Bible duo have not bound us against that evil. So this may say nothing about righteousness vs. evil, but it could still say a lot about the church. Perhaps without Catholic resistance to the Pill, there would be no resistance. Perhaps the future will hold different statistics?

I feel my thoughts are riddled with holes, so look forward to your response.