The author of this book, Sex au Naturel - What it is and Why it's good for your marriage, is visiting family in Halifax this Christmas and our pastor took the opportunity to have him speak at Canadian Martyrs' church last night.
Patrick Coffin is a graduate of religious studies at Mt. St. Vincent University, holds a graduate degree in philosophy from McGill University in Montreal, and a masters in theology from the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He is currently the host of the most widely-listened-to Catholic radio talk show called Catholic Answers out of San Diego, California. You can check out the radio show here .
Patrick gave an engaging hour-long talk to a group of about 100 people and then took questions from the audience. Afterward, there was a reception and we had a chance to meet Patrick personally and also to buy an autographed copy of his book. If you have a chance to hear Patrick, take advantage of the opportunity, it is well worth it. And of course, if you do or don't, read the book at least.
Patrick was not always a follower of the Catholic Church's teaching on birth control. He began as a critic, became a skeptic, and then was won over to the validity of the church teaching through study and through his own growth in marriage. He is a very good speaker and, for such a young man, he has already overcome the problem of too much self coming across instead of the subject matter. He is able to articulate the teaching and communicate it without any finger-pointing, a rather difficult task given the subject matter.
I took extensive notes and will attempt a brief summary.
1. A lot of people are "wounded" in their sexuality and we are seeing this most blatantly in the current gender confusion. There are many "bruised reeds" in our modern world.
2. Until 1930, when the Anglican Church held the Lambeth Conference and approved of birth control in marriage, all Christian churches were against contraception.
Men like Luther and Calvin had very strong words for contraception, not hesitating to call it akin to murder.
3. The Catholic Church holds that natural family planning can be known by "all good men" because it follows from the natural law. The problem is that man's sinful nature makes us stupid and God knows that we need divine revelation, hence the Commandments.
4. The contraceptive mentality is like a religion itself, having a creed of lust, a priest like Hugh Hefner, the prayer of pornography, and the sacrifice of abortion.
When Pope Paul VI brought out Humanae Vitae in 1968, he did so into a cultural revolution that was underway throughout the western world, and even the clergy expected him to relax the church teaching on contraception. Given the tenor of the times, when sexual restraint was removed by virtue of "the pill", it was almost impossible to get a good hearing for this encyclical. Especially since there seemd to be no side effects (actually I disagree strongly with this point, as I will write in a later post: women are paying dearly for the use of the pill with increased risk of breast cancer). There followed dissent amongst the church; in Canada, we even had the Winnipeg Statement issued a few weeks after the encyclical's publication in which the majority of Canadian bishops seemed to agree with the encyclical until the last statement. In that sentence, they claimed that couples who found it too hard to follow the teaching could rest assured that they were acting in good faith if they followed their own consciences. This opened the floodgate in Canada, at least, to the complete lack of teaching on the subject in our Canadian churches. Other countries did similar things to the Winnipeg statement, although Canada seems to have been the most outspoken in its dissent.
However, what Pope Paul VI predicted as the consequence of artificial birth control, has actually come to pass. Because contraception introduces separation and alienation into an act that is meant to unite man and woman, there follows the principle of the non-procreative orgasm and this leads to a lack of respect for women, the acceptance of sterile sexual acts, and of course abortion because the "unplanned pregnancy" becomes now the "unwanted baby" - a huge difference in perspective.
"Contra" means "against" and "ception" means "the beginning" so contraception means literally "against the beginning". When contraception becomes the theory behind sexual practice, abortion becomes necessary. Every country that has legalized artificial contraception has seen an increase in abortion; the two are fruits of the same tree.
So does the Church say that women then have to be baby-machines and have as many children as biologically possible? Definitely not. What the Catholic Church objects to is the means used to prevent pregnancy, not the prevention of pregnancy. When a couple uses the rhythm of a woman's cycle to space children, they are cooperating with nature but at the same time, they are always open to life. And the reason to be open to life is because we are not the author of it, God is. How many children are not here because couples have decided that one child or two children were all they wanted? In every instance, anyone who is for contraception makes an exception for the night when their mother and father conceived them. That is because life is something we all cherish and we would not wish it otherwise.
So what are the benefits of following the Church's teaching on birth control?
Well, there is no denying the statistics that show couples who use natural family planning actually have much lower divorce rates than couples who use artificial birth control. There is a closer bond between husband and wife, as both are involved in the spacing of their children, not just the woman who pops a pill. Because the root of dissent is fear, couples who are not open to having a child are showing a lack of confidence in divine providence - "the Lord won't take care of this baby that He allowed to be". And this lack of confidence in God's provision results in a crisis of faith that spills over into the rest of their lives.
Natural family planning treats God as an equal partner in a poker game. Contraception treats God as the opponent in the game and regards new life as an object to be avoided. Once we accept artificial contraception, which means sterile sexual acts, then we have no argument against homosexuality or against IVF or pornography, the list goes on.
Scripture is full of passages in which God says "be fruitful and multiply": Genesis 1:27 when God commands Adam to fill the earth, Genesis 9:1 with Noah, Genesis 35:11 to Jacob. Being blessed is associated, in the Bible, with having many children. Psalm 127:3-5 says:
Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
As Patrick quipped, what man, preparing for battle with an enemy, would go out with 2.1 arrows in his quiver?
And he then spoke of the false theory of over-population; the reality is a current population implosion in the western world - Russia is now giving prizes to couples who have children on a special day; Greece, Italy, Spain are all destined for decline given that they are not replacing themselves; in Canada our own province of Quebec gives more and more money to couples who will have children, as they face demographic disaster brought on by contraception and abortion.
Patrick likes to use analogies and one that seemed particularly apt was this one: eating is to the human body what sexuality is to the human race. If you see someone eating food and then sticking a spoon down their throat to vomit, you would conclude the person had bulimia, an "eating disorder". So, when we see people engaging in sexual activities but avoiding the natural consequence which is children, we should likewise call that a "sexual disorder". There is a reason that God linked sex and procreation; He could have separated the two but he didn't. And natural family planning respects what God has joined together (double meaning fully intended).
The first principle of the Christian life is to pray. We are called to sanctity, to love with God's love, to take as our example Mary who said yes to everything except sin. The inner truth of conjugal love is to be open to all the possibilities of total self-giving. With contraception, there is no self-mastery and no rhythm of "no, yes, and not yet".
Great talk, get the book. And kudos to Father Mark Cherry who had the guts to bring into the open a subject that most clergy avoid like the plague.