So, I don't know what prompted it, but for the past few weeks, perhaps months, the whole sticky issue of my religion's teachings on reproduction and birth control have been meandering in and out of my thoughts.
I'm Catholic. I guess I ought to tell you how I became Catholic, so you can properly put my thoughts into context. My parents were Catholic and baptized me Catholic as a very young child. When my parents divorced and remarried, I was raised from about age 3 on by a WONDERFUL woman, who I call my mom as well, who was Lutheran. For a good part of my childhood, we attended the Lutheran church. Then, I'm guessing around the time I was in middle school, my parents couldn't find a Lutheran church they liked in the area we lived. So, we began to visit many different churches, and if memory serves me correctly, I think we ended up attending non-denominational churches for the remainder of my unbringing. My (step) Mom is a deeply spiritual woman who I look up to with great admiration. She is also an apologist and fervently studies the Bible in detail and thinks critically about the purpose and teachings behind each passage. So, this is how I was raised on "religion."
Bible study for me is, while primarily a spiritual exercise, it is also very much an intellectual exercise as well. I dissect and compare and juxtapose until I usually end up with more questions than I have answers.
My husband and his entire family is Catholic. I followed my husband (only my boyfriend at the time) to Mount Saint Mary's University for college and took several courses in theology there. I was left with a deep impression of the spirituality and tradition of the Catholic Church while I was a student there, and decided to be confirmed a Catholic. I went through RCIA under the spiritual leadership of an amaaaazing Sister, who was also a professor of the school. I wrestled with a lot of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but always seemed to find an explanation that somehow satisfied me. Apparently, heresy is out and prayerful dissent is "in."
So, back to the subject matter... Shortly after we got married, we decided to follow Church doctrine of not using artificial birth control. It was kind of an easy decision to make, since we decided to start trying to get pregnant pretty much on the plane back from our honeymoon. Since then, I've only taken birth control for very short periods of time when I needed to for medical reasons. As it also turns out, I don't get pregnant very easily. So, the more natural methods of birth control work rather well for me.
But, the Catholic Church takes the doctrine even a step further. Aside from abstinence, any efforts to prevent procreation is a sin. A mortal sin. Yikes. That's a tough bit of information for a 21st century woman to swallow. As the website www.catholic.com explains, the doctrine is derived from the following Bible passage:
Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother. "Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also" (Gen. 38:8–10).
I guess my hang-up here is that this passage seems to be to be more about breaking an ancient Jewish law that required a brother-in-law to father children for his deceased brother's wife than about reproductive practices between a married couple... I mean, no one follows that law anymore (right???)! So, I'm having difficulty making the jump the Church asks us to make.
I do believe God wants us as Christians to increase his kingdom by bringing Christian children into the world. I guess, I just want to do that on my own timing. And with the number of children my husband and I believe works well for our family and our plans.
But then, I think about the quiverful movement, which has been widely publicized lately by the Duggar family. Its easy to judge the sanity of such people, since very few of us could ever imagine having more than a few kids ourselves. But, what if they are on to something?
The Bible does say, "be fruitful and multiple" (in several different places, in case you missed it the first time). Thinking in mathematical terms, this means you should have more than two children right? Because two children merely replaces the parents and does nothing by way of multiplying. So, what is the appropriate number?
Yes, I know, I think too much. I don't expect to find an "answer" nor anything remotely reaching a consensus among thoughtful Christians. Its just one of the ponderables I ponder and try to iron out for myself. But you, my loyal and faithful blog readers, are always very thoughtful and have a wide range of views - so what do you think about all this?