6.04.2014

Given in Marriage

Over at First Things, this article describes one Christian's perspective on homosexuality and marriage. The author quotes Elizabeth Anscombe’s essay "Contraception and Chastity":

 "If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase in debito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here—not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behaviour in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition." (emphasis mine)

 While the details will differ on reaching the conclusion Scripturally, there are good points made here. The answer to the questions of contraception (as well as homosexuality) rest solely in the question: "what has been given by God in Christ?"

Marriage is a given estate of God as gift. Luther highlights this in the Small Catechism in drawing out our gifts of "daily bread" to include devout husband or wife and devout children. The reality is that not all gifts are given equal save one. The gift of salvation, freely offered and given as complete and finished in the death and resurrection of Christ. The gifts of daily bread that follow vary among us.

The Christian reality is in the gifts given by God in Christ. Marriage seen as right and not as gift will have a differing view. Children seen as right or commodity or anything other than gift will have a differing view. Christians are indeed drawn out of the pagan world. Drawn out to receive the gifts of God in Christ. Gifts received in faith as the Lord gives. Important for us to remember that gifts given are simply gifts. They are given as the gift giver would have them be received. He gives marriage as one man and woman and within that union He gives children. We are called out of this pagan world to receive Christ's gifts. The gifts He gives from the cross as well as the temporal gifts. Not with greed, not with complaint, and not with demands of telling our Lord when and how to give. We receive as beggars, with joy, by faith that He indeed is Lord of all creation, over life and death, over marriage, over the gifts of creation. Thanks be to God.

4.09.2014

Public Square Apologetics for the Historic "Conjugal" Definition of Marriage

Apologetics in the public square in favor of maintaining the historic "conjugal" definition of marriage ("one man, one woman, for the purpose of procreation") should not be primarily the religious arguments we talk about in our churches. It's not that we shouldn't be able to talk about our religious views. We should! The religious liberty issue is a different argument. What I am talking about here is that our religious arguments are obviously not what are going to be respected in the public square by those who do not share our religious views. I suggest that proponents of traditional "conjugal" marriage who are being accused of imposing their moral and religious views on others should study the following paper, especially noting Part II, E. The argument in the public square in favor of the historic "conjugal" definition of marriage needs to be based on the solid points of civil law and natural law found in this paper, and which sustained the historic understanding of marriage for millennia until this strange moment in history we call the present.

http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/GeorgeFinal.pdf

7.08.2013

Infertility and the Marriage Debate

Our friend Katie Schuermann over at He Remembers the Barren answered the following question for me.  Well said Katie!

Is procreation an intrinsic quality of marriage?

Portrait of a young boy crossing guard standing on the road holding a stop signQuestion Submitted: At a recent theological symposium, I posited that we in the Church need “to return to teaching properly about the positive locus of marriage – teaching about its procreative purpose and nature.” Another attendee replied in part that “procreation is NOT an intrinsic quality of marriage, as we do not say the infertile are not married.” If I had had a chance for rebuttal, I would have pointed out the error of his logic. Bipedalism is an intrinsic quality of humans, despite the sad reality of paraplegia. It would be very helpful to hear how you would counter the idea that infertility invalidates the argument that procreation is an intrinsic quality of marriage. I have my own answers to this false argument, but I would like to make sure I have an answer that is sensitive to the minds of those who suffer from infertility.

My pastors taught me that God institutes and defines marriage in Genesis Chapters 1 and 2. We learn in verses 1:27-28 that God created man in His own image; male and female He created them, and He blessed them. He told them to be fruitful and multiply, and God saw that “it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

The gift of procreation is not only a blessing God speaks over marriage, but God sees the blessing of children as good.

Barrenness is not good. Barrenness is a brokenness of God’s good creation. Endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, hashimoto’s thyroiditis, low sperm motility, ovarian and cervical cancers, miscarriages, childlessness, and the groaning of all creation came about as a result of man’s fall into Sin; and we don’t use the effects of Sin to redefine that which God institutes and calls “good” in His Word, nor do we use the effects of Sin to defend the notion that procreation is somehow not a part of God’s intrinsic design of marriage. That is my biggest qualm with the other attendee’s rhetoric. His thesis does not fully confess barrenness as a post-Fall reality. Barrenness proves nothing about God’s procreative intent for marriage other than that God, post-Fall, allows the cross of barrenness to burden the shoulders of some married couples.

In regards to being sensitive to the barren, we should be careful not to turn God’s good, fruitful blessing for marriage into man’s good work. Scripture tells us that having children is not a law of God for us to keep but a heritage from Him for us to receive (Psalm 127:3). None of us would have children apart from God’s merciful blessing and giving. Only God in His wisdom knows why He does not open the wombs of the barren, and we should not burden the consciences of those who are unable to have children by suggesting they should be able to outwit the very Author of Life.
And as for using the existence of barrenness as an excuse to avoid the gift of children in marriage, I can think of no place in Scripture where God calls that good.

6.26.2013

DOMA decision by Supreme Court

From our friend Greg Laughlin:

The time has come, indeed, it has long since come, for Christians to ask themselves how it has come to this. It has been a long, long trail.  A good place to start would be to read Justice O'Connor's concurrence in Lawrence and ask yourself what she's talking about.

See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/02-102.ZC.html. For some help, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States#State_laws_prior_to_2003. Then, read all of the opinions in Griswold v. Connecticut. See: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0381_0479_ZO.html, the case on which Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas is based.

Ask yourself where such laws came from and how it came to be that an overwhelmingly Protestant nation enacted such laws. Then purchase or borrow from a library "Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger" by David M. Kennedy and, if you don't have time to read the whole book, read Chapter 6, "The Debate on Morality". See: http://www.amazon.com/Birth-Control-America-Margaret-History/dp/1597404276.

You'll see the debate then was just as intense as today, though the subject matter was different, but closely related. Then read what Luther and our Protestant forebearers wrote. See: http://socrates58.blogspot.com/2004/02/why-did-god-kill-onan-luther-calvin.html. Note particularly what Luther wrote in his "Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44".

Then read Matthew 7:1-5 and ask yourselves why we haven't been able to see clearly to remove this speck from the eyes of our brothers and sisters. Also ask yourself what you grandchildren and great-grandchildren will believe on today's subject based on how our beliefs have changed from what our grandparents and great-grandparents believed and practiced a century ago and for centuries before that. He who has ears, let him hear.

Yours,
Greg Laughlin

6.22.2013

Lutheran Marriage Initiative

I highly recommend bookmarking and following a new blog by Rev. Robert Baker, whom you may recall from his "Bioethike" blogging adventure.  This new venture is called the Lutheran Marriage Initiative

Let me briefly explain the importance of this effort by asking a question:

Considering contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, such as so-called "homosexual marriage," what do we need to do to regain and retain a strong hold on orthodox doctrine? 

I would suggest that we absolutely must revive the "loci" method of teaching.

Homosexuality is a sin, yes, and Scripture is clear on this. We do not believe, as the ELCA does, that our fathers in the faith were misinterpreting Scripture for 2000 years.

But let's rewind to just a few decades ago when the culture we live in began to see contraception as acceptable in marriage, redefining marriage as being primarily about companionship and mutual pleasure, at the expense of the procreative purpose. 

What was the church's response? The Scriptures our fathers in the faith unanimously interpreted for 2000 years as condemning contraception were reinterpreted, just as the verses condemning homosexuality are now.

How did this happen? We lost the broader epistemology which was employed by the great orthodox Lutheran theologians, which includes natural law and finds its best expression in the loci method rather than a myopic look at specific Bible passages that condemn specific sins.

With regard to homosexuality, we lost the locus on marriage that teaches us, among other things, that an intrinsic quality of marriage is its procreative nature. THIS is why homosexual "marriage" is not just a sinful perversion, but in truth an impossibility! It is against the created order. 

We need to return to teaching properly about the positive locus of marriage - teaching about its procreative purpose and nature. Then, the negative perversions can be seen clearly in contrast to the positive locus.

May God bless this new initiative of Rev. Baker's in so doing!

6.17.2013

"Marriage" and Procreation

Due to the homosexual assault on the definition of marriage, Lutherans are starting to think more about the issue of procreation.  Until very recently, conservative Lutheran arguments about homosexual unions focused almost exclusively on the fact that the Bible specifically prohibits homosexual acts. The simplified argument against homosexuality (and thus homosexual "marriage") is basically limited to two premises: that "sex is for marriage", and that marriage is defined as "one man and one woman."

However, this limited argument based on a "strong divine command theory ethic" worked against homosexuality only to a point. There is so much more involved in a full understanding of why homosexual "marriage" is not just "wrong" and "against Scripture", but rather is actually an impossibility.

In the secular world, as well as within the church, we must bring a broader epistemology into play that includes natural law and human reason. Why? Because people see the inconsistency and unfairness of saying homosexuals cannot marry when a man and a woman can marry and engage in sex that is not procreative. The real problem is that, through contraception and the sexual revolution, heterosexuals changed their definition of marriage long before homosexuals sought to co-opt the term.

A case in point is the April 24, 2009 Iowa Supreme Court case of Varnum v. Brien, which interpreted the constitutional guarantee to equal protection as follows: "To truly ensure equality before the law, the equal protection guarantee requires that laws treat all those who are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the law alike."  You see, if marriage is just about the relationship of two people, and heterosexuals can have intentionally childless marriages for the exclusive purpose of mutual support and pleasure, how can we deny the same legal designation and rights to homosexuals, "who are similarly situated with respect to the purpose of the law?"

Now that we have a growing consensus in our society for a legal redefinition of marriage that includes homosexual "marriage", people are realizing that the Christian argument against such a redefinition must go beyond the "one man - one woman" facet. Many are realizing that they were missing the larger ontological point that illustrates why marriage is between one man and one woman.

I am now noticing that many pastors, theologians, and even laymen who otherwise approve of contraception are beginning to come to the realization that understanding what marriage is must take more into account than just the "relational" aspect.  They are beginning to see that a basic ontological truth about marriage is its intrinsic procreative nature. This is crucial to successfully defending marriage against the concept of "homosexual marriage." What a creature does is related to who or what it is, and who or what it is is not simply the observable properties and characteristics, but the purpose for which the creature exists and the relationship he is engaged in.

However, most people still are failing to connect these dots and take this ontological argument to its logical conclusion.  Some even say that an intentionally childless marriage is still a true marriage because it retains the "appearance" of being potentially procreative.  It might seem obvious to others that an intentionally childless "marriage" is not that much different from a homosexual relationship, but people really have trouble seeing the same connection to a "marriage" that is intentionally limited to the concept of a 2.1 children maximum.

Does the one-flesh union of "marriage" retain its procreative nature during the periods of time when the procreative purpose is being intentionally frustrated? Most of our readers here would agree with me that the answer is, "NO!" We do not have the prerogative to turn off the procreative nature of the one flesh union at will. Whenever we refuse God's procreative intentions for marriage, then there is little substantive difference between heterosexual and homosexual unions.

The marriage one has is the one which is being lived out at the present, not the one a person might choose to have at another time.  I can't say I'm being faithful to God's purpose for marriage by saying I plan to be fruitful later.  That would be like saying that I am loving my neighbor if I leave him starving today but plan to give him a loaf of bread next week.

Marriages that struggle with infertility, as well as post-menopausal marriages, also do not validate the false notion that an ***intentionally*** childless marriage (or period of marriage) is still true marriage simply because it retains the "appearance" of a procreative relationship. Again, ontologically speaking, what a creature does is related to who or what it is, and who or what it is is not simply the observable properties and characteristics, but the purpose for which the creature exists and the relationship he is engaged in. 

So, my question is this... how do we address the error we see in those who would use the procreative argument against homosexual "marriage" yet approve of family planning within heterosexual marriage? How do we get them to see that contraception itself is a sodomitic sin, corrupting the very nature of the one-flesh union we call marriage? What is the simplest way to point out the logical inconsistency? What questions could one ask such individuals to get them to think? What analogies would open their minds to the truth? How do we address the false counterarguments regarding infertility and post-menopausal marriage?

I am attending the Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium this Wednesday through Friday, and I expect the argument is going to be ripe for the picking. The subject is "Catechesis and Contemporary Challenges to the Christian Faith." Rev. Dr. Nathan Jastram is one of the presenters and is going to be addressing the issue of homosexuality.  I've also been thinking about this Symposium's topic in relation to the recent book I reviewed here on L&P, How the West Really Lost God by Mary Eberstadt. 

Overall, I personally believe contraception has been one of the most detrimental challenges to the Christian faith.  I really think we are approaching a time when, due to the contemporary challenges, people who otherwise hold orthodox theology will just need to connect the dots of what they have already come to realize in order to reclaim the historic biblical teaching of the church about procreation.

6.07.2013

How the West Really Lost God:

A New Theory of Secularization by Mary Eberstadt

Eberstadt's basic argument is that religious decline doesn't just lead to family decline, but rather in some ways also causes it. While I realize this is not primarily a theological treatise, it does address religious issues and therefore has an underlying theological premise of sorts.  In that regard, I must say that some of the argumentation raises theological red flags in suggesting that "at least some of the time family drives faith" [page 103].

Of course, as Lutherans we understand that what drives faith is Word and Sacrament, not whether one procreates or experiences "family" in a positive sense. However, I can still agree with the main direction of the underlying theological argument. The primary effective point here is not that having kids makes one have faith, but rather that NOT having kids can tend to lead to a loss of faith.

THAT is something I can agree with.  Why? "We also reject and condemn the dogma that faith and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost are not lost by willful sin, but that the saints and elect retain the Holy Ghost even though they fall into adultery and other sins and persist therein." [FC Ep Good Works ¶19]

Augustine, Luther, and countless others warn us that contraceptive sex is "worse than adultery".  Among other differences, adultery can be a sin that one stumbles into in a moment of passion. Successfully separating sex from procreation, on the other hand, requires constant planning and persistence.

There's a big difference between the sins we stumble into and the sins we live in. One doesn't stumble into successful birth control practices. One must work at it quite diligently - "living in it" - and this includes NFP. And, as the Epitome makes clear, faith and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost are lost by such willful, persistent sin.

So, the theory that contraception has contributed to a loss of faith is quite consistent with good theology. Let me quote the author making the point of her thesis question on page 113:

"...why is it not more fitting with the facts to suppose that the dramatic collapse of fertility, used again as just one proxy for the state of the family (because it is the easiest to measure), has been helping to drive the collapse in religiosity, rather than just vise versa? That not having babies any more made people less likely to bother about - or hear, depending on your point of view - God?"

Indeed, it makes a great deal of sense.  Unfortunately, Eberstadt also believes this can work in the opposite direction (toward creating faith).  This may make logical sense when it comes to human reason.  However, I would contend that this theory is contrary to a monergistic Lutheran understanding of conversion.

One of the primary reasons she gives as to why it would be reasonable to believe family can help bring about faith is that the analogies, symbols, and images children and family provide are important adjuncts to the Word, helping the simple-minded to understand, for instance, the love of a heavenly Father. Instead, I think it is more proper to see the love of God as a principle analogy by which people come to properly understand marriage and family - in fact, the only way one can properly understand marriage and family. Without having received the gift of faith through the Word, one cannot understand the love that only faith can see. The fact is, the gift of faith comes without "understanding" in the cognitive sense that I think she is postulating here.

Faith is given in the simple words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Does a baby “understand” or “comprehend” these words? Is it a valid baptism if the infant does not yet speak the language the words are being spoken in? Is it a valid baptism if it is done by a Roman Catholic priest in Latin? You know the answers to these questions. The Word, in and with the water, does great things. It does seemingly impossible things. The child does not need a picture book or analogy in order to receive faith from the Word in baptism. Neither do the simple-minded who may not have intact loving families need things outside of the Word.

My point is that we may say that the symbol of the family can and does serve the Word by helping to explain the Word, aiding in ongoing catechesis, but we cannot look at it as creating or sustaining faith. That job is something we reserve as belonging to the Word and Sacraments exclusively.  Christianity initially spread through the conversion of people living in the Roman Empire at a time when it could be argued that the family had disintegrated worse than it has yet in the Western world today.  So, I would argue that the decline of the family does not limit the power of the Holy Spirit to create faith when and where He wills to grow the church even in the face of this modern secularization of Western Civilization.

That said, there is yet another way to frame the arguments of this book in such a way that they do not do violence to proper theology.  Eberstadt defines and explains religious decline, secularization, and even "Christianity" much more broadly than a Lutheran theological discussion allows one to.  In what I wrote above I have not acknowledged the broader license Eberstadt claims as a sociologist in discussing this. However, I do think my theological arguments are important, as Eberstadt does not approach this without making theological arguments of her own, which is precisely what I have taken issue with above.  Having made my theological point, I will now admit the broader, nontheological, sociological truth of Eberstadt's thesis.

It does appear plausible that having children and intact families lends itself well to people thinking more "religiously."  In this regard we can even acknowledge the connection between religion and fertility among non-Christians (e.g. Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc.).  Even within our own churches it appears that when people begin to have children, they tend to come to church more.  However, we must admit that there are plenty of hypocrites in every church and, indeed, in every religion.  The sociological point here is not a theological one of whether the "religious" are actually "true believers".  It is simply an observable fact that people of many faiths tend to pay more attention to their given religiosity if they have an intact family.  Having children itself is a transcendent, or even "religious" experience.

There are many other aspects to Eberstadt's sociological arguments that are worth considering.  The broader point that a society that values a "Christian" identity of sorts in regard to its laws, its institutions, its culture, etc., tends to be a society that benefits all its members, including those who do not believe.  This is the broader negative effect of "secularlization" with which Eberstadt is primarily concerned in this book.  The West has "lost God" and Eberstadt make a strong case that family decline may, in fact, be contributing to the ongoing secularization of our society rather than family decline simply being a result of secularization.

Having highlighted the theological issues I wrestled with in reading this book can thus be recognized ahead of time, such that if and when you read this book you can do so without the distraction these theological considerations tended to cause me.  It is worth the read, though even she admits it is speculative exercise and not a book that seeks to provide definitive answers.  Her goal was to offer a unique perspective on secularization that may help explain some of the unanswered questions found in other perspectives.  I think she does that well.

4.02.2013

Ross Douthat


Marriage Looks Different Now  3/30/2013

Marriage, Procreation and Historical Amnesia 4/2/2013

The Abolition of Man

"The preservation of society, and of the species itself, are ends that do not hang on the precarious thread of Reason: they are given by Instinct. That is why there is no need to argue against the man who does not acknowledge them. We have an instinctive urge to preserve our own species. That is why men ought to work for posterity. We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity—in fact the Tao—can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species. That, again, is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and we can now abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want."

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

3.22.2013

Dr. Bessie

From Alan Graebner, Birth Control and the Lutherans—The Missouri Synod as a Case Study, Journal of Social History, Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 1969, pages 320-22:
"In this case he [Rehwinkel] was much aided by his wife, a remarkable woman trained as a physician who was practicing medicine and homesteading in Wyoming when she met Rehwinkel. She had grown up Methodist; thus, “when you told her something was wrong, she wanted to know why, and you couldn't just quote Walther [the Synod's patriarch] to her.” Impatience with ultraconservative standards of woman's role, inquiring skepticism and professional medical competence were highly corrosive; by the early 1940's Alfred Rehwinkel was exploring a new position before groups of pastors and occasionally laymen (Alfred M. Rehwinkel, Dr. Bessie, CPH, 1963; interview, Alfred Rehwinkel, June 21, 1967. For a report of one appearance before laymen, see Lutheran Layman, XVIII, 1947, 25). In such sessions, Rehwinkel provided a sympathetic history of family restriction, explicitly defending the much maligned Margaret Sanger. To dispel intimations that contraception was murder, he explained the mechanics of conception and tried to vitiate the simplistic equating of race suicide and birth control."

©1963, CPH
In an attempt to learn more about this "remarkable woman," today I read Dr. Bessie, the 168 page biography about Dr. Alfred M. Rehwinkel's wife coauthored by the husband and wife team. 

The first 92 pages of the book paint a picture of a rather progressive woman doctor who has plenty of experience that would make one sympathetic to the notion that birth control could be a blessing - at least for some.  I was surprised and pleased, however, to see this perspective tempered somewhat in the second half of the book. 

The changing culture of the Twentieth Century, perhaps like others, seems punctuated by the tension between the beliefs, traditions, and sentiments of the past and the perceived challenges of the modern age.  These same tensions are clearly evident in each of these two Rehwinkel books, Dr. Bessie and Planned Parenthood

There is a certain level of respect, though brief, given to the traditional values and beliefs of the past by these authors.  However, the overall works both form more of an apology for the progressive agenda. Any defense of the right perspective gets only a few sentences and is outweighed by the overall force of the balance of their writings.

In the beginning of the book, we learn of an ambitious young daughter of a physician.  She is engaged to a banker's son.  However, the advice of a "motherly friend and neighbor" named "Mrs. Bensen" dissuades her from this prospect:  "Bessie, why don't you go to college and study medicine?"  Bessie writes:

"I had thought about it so much, but never had the courage to discuss it with anyone else, not even with my father.  ...For a moment my spirits dropped again, fearing that he might not agree.  How terrible that would be!  All my hopes and dreams would again be shattered.  It would mean that I would get married like other girls and settle down to the humdrum life of a married woman in a small town.  There would be nothing else to look forward to." 

She approaches her father, who tries to change her mind, but Bessie's ambitions win out and the father gives in with the words:  "Very well, you're old enough to know what you want to do."

The next two chapters are all about her difficulties in school and as a new young woman doctor.  At the end of chapter III, she relates the difficulties of delivering babies in those days, but at the same time explaining that "it seems that women were hardier that they are now.  The laws of nature are designed for the survival of the race.  After all, the Creator had ordained for man to increase and multiply long before there were any doctors, nurses, or hospitals."  There's one of those points of tension in the book I was talking about.

Next we learn about a few tragedies that strike Bessie's life.  Her brother's wife develops an infection after the birth of her fifth child and dies.  However, before her death she prays in Bessie's presence:  "O Lord, I know that Bessie will not let my children come to want.  Help her and bless her for what she will do for them."

Only a few months later Bessie's brother dies, leaving the children orphaned.  So what does Bessie do?  She finds a woman willing to take care of the baby and another sister takes the other boy.  She finds another woman to take care of the youngest of three girls (2 years old), paying her for room and board.  And the older two girls she puts in "a Home" (orphanage?).

Then, only a few months after her brother dies, Bessie's latest fiance (who she hasn't mentioned yet up to this point) dies.  To get away from all the tragedy she moves to another town.  Her conscience then gets the best of her and she returns to rescue the two oldest girls from the orphanage, bringing them home to live with her.  Bessie writes:

"When my relatives found out what I had done, they were not at all encouraging but rather criticized me as having acted impulsively and undertaken a foolhardy venture.  Even my father warned that I was taking on something far beyond my ability.  He spoke from experience, because in his second marriage he had married a widow with several children, and he knew what it meant to assume such a responsibility." 

Then, as a result of the banking crisis and economic problems of 1907, Bessie suffers financial ruin.  But, before relating the events that followed this she interrupts an otherwise chronological story to relate some of the "unpleasant experiences" she had in the early days of her practice.  And, again, she returns to the subject of procreation.  As a general doctor, her stories seem to overemphasize some of the most negative obstetrical scenarios one could think of.  It is easy to see how these experiences made a very deep impression on Bessie that was obviously part of the thinking she and her husband had about birth control.  Here is the thrust of the first story:

"The unfaithful husband and father of the 12 children had contracted gonorrhea from some prostitute in the city while his wife was in the last stages of pregnancy or in the early days after her confinement, and then, before she was able to leave her bed, he had infected her with this dread disease." 

The next story is about abortion.  A young woman who is engaged gets pregnant, but her fiance dies and then she wants an abortion.  While she counsels this young woman in a prolife manner, Bessie follows this story up with the following words: 

"Cases like this demonstrated to me again and again the unfairness of society in dealing with moral delinquents.  The man, equally guilty, in most cases no doubt more so, remains anonymous.  He goes free and may continue to wreck other girls, but the girl must bear the consequences alone and is branded for life."

It is clear that the Rehwinkels would never have approved of abortion. However, as usual, hard cases make bad law. You can see how any practical discussions Bessie and Alfred had about birth control would have favored the likes of Margaret Sanger and the acceptance of birth control. This book about Bessie is completely consistent with Alfred's book Planned Parenthood.

So, back to the life of Bessie, she moves out west to Wyoming.  Here we learn again about some of the more deplorable conditions in which women give birth and in which doctors must deliver babies.  Yet, after a long chapter detailing a laundry list of negatives, Bessie writes perhaps the most unexpected words I found in this entire book:

"But I survived, and so did my patients despite all these hardships and disadvantages.  All of which proves again that man by nature is a pretty tough creature.  Man was intended to survive and multiply even under the most unfavorable conditions.

"The fact is that even today the greatest number of human beings are born into the world under circumstances far more primitive than we had on the Western frontier in those days.  The greatest increase in population still occurs in countries where they know nothing of modern hospitals, sanitation, or even doctors.

"Only we of the Western world have all these luxuries and conveniences, and we are growing soft, lazy, and fat.

"It will remain for history to determine whether the soft and pampered materialistic generation of our age will be able to preserve the wonderful heritage that has been passed on to them by their more rugged and less favored forefathers." 

Bessie, a Methodist, ends up meeting a young Lutheran vicar, whom she marries, leaving her medical practice behind and moving to Canada, having three children of her own, and ending up in St. Louis.  There's a lot of good story-telling in there, but I guess I'll leave that for those of you who want to read the book for yourself.  The important point for the sake of the subject this QF group is most concerned with is explained in Bessie's own words, summing up this latter portion of her life as follows:

"I discovered that there are greater things in the life of a woman than a professional success.  A woman may succeed in a man's profession and enjoy the independence of a career, but she remains a woman still.  And I learned that to be the wife of a good man and devoted husband and a mother of loving children is infinitely greater than the success in a profession... There is nothing greater in the life of a woman than motherhood." 

That's not the "moral of the story" I expected to hear from Bessie and Alfred Rehwinkel, but I like it!

However, while these early feminists like Bessie Rehwinkel often still saw motherhood as the "crowning achievement" of a woman's life, it was more like the frosting on a cake that would be "humdrum with nothing else to look forward to" without the "cake" of all the other achievements a woman should enjoy before ever getting married, and continue doing after the banner of motherhood has been won with one, two, or at most three, children. Then she can stand proud in any group of women, silently despising all the lesser women who "never went to college."

No, motherhood is not the frosting on the cake. It is the cake! - a cake that is so sweet and delicious it needs no frosting. Unfortunately, this leaves it less appealing to the eye. It also is known to bring pain and anguish. All the other achievements in a woman's life are like all the other dainty and tempting deserts at the table that can be sampled at a party. There's nothing necessarily wrong with these other deserts, per se, especially if the cake is not available at this or that time.

However, after sampling these other deserts, a woman often does not have the appetite or the ability to recognize or fully enjoy what is actually the best cake on the table, or else she is already so full that she only takes a few bites before she can eat no more. Sometimes the party is over before she has a chance to try it. Many enjoy the other fine deserts so much that they refuse to consider that ugly looking cake that doesn't have any frosting, even going so far as spitting it in the trash if they unexpectedly find it in their mouths.

1.22.2013

The Legalization of Abortion

It all began in 1930 at the Anglican Lambeth Conference:
Resolution 15

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.
Sociological forces around the time of WWI led to this Lambeth Conference decision of 1930, approving the use of birth control in hard cases. This is acknowledged by everyone as the decision which reversed the unanimous testimony of the previous two millennia that Scripture strictly prohibits ALL intentionally contraceptive sex. All other churches, including Missouri Synod Lutherans, attacked the Lambeth decision as flatly contrary to Scripture and the unanimous teaching of the church.

However, it only took a matter of a few short decades for the continuing social and political forces to cause all of Christendom to capitulate. In 1959, the unofficial change in teaching in the LCMS was marked by the publication by CPH of Alfred M. Rehwinkel's book Planned Parenthood, praising Margaret Sanger. The "hard case" arguments were very much a part of this.

Even the Roman Catholic Church finally gave in to the primary argument of the Lambeth decision of 1930. Paul VI's Humanae Vitae accepted the false dichotomy of the "hard case exception", but nuanced the RC solution by forbidding "artificial" means while officially allowing the most effective "natural" means of family planning, NFP.

The problems with the Lambeth decision are many, but one proved particularly insidious. That is, if contraception is okay in some hard case scenarios, then who gets to decide when it is okay to contracept? Where is the line and who is the one drawing it? How are couples to be counseled? Here is where the rubber hit the road. Children became a choice and people needed a framework to make that choice in.

A supposed "right to privacy" came to the rescue. This "right to privacy" is the very argument that was used to abolish the Comstock laws, legalizing birth control. Ultimately, everyone became subject to his own devices.

The belief that having children is a choice, and that people have a right to privacy, then led quickly and inevitably to the legalization of abortion. This entire series of change took only 43 years from the Lambeth decision until the legalization of abortion in 1973.

10.14.2012

Our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved

Ecclesiastes 11:5, "As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything."

In mistakenly thinking man can determine by science the exact moment life begins and, therefore, identify a time before which he can insert his will without murdering, we have lost a necessary awe and respect for procreation as the ongoing work of God - a work which defies human wisdom and knowledge.  The growing knowledge of the biological process should only increase our fear and wonder at the miracle of procreation, not increase our confidence in fiddling with it.

"Therefore our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved. If we believe that God is the efficient and the final cause, should we not wonder at His works, delight in them, and proclaim them always and everywhere? But how many are there who really do this from the heart? We hear that God took a clod and made a human being; we wonder at this, and because of our wonder we regard it as a fairy tale. But that He now takes a drop from the blood of the father and creates a human being, this we do not wonder at, because it happens every day, while the other thing was done only once; yet each of the two is brought about through the same skill and the same power and by the same Author. For He who formed man from a clod now creates men from the blood of their parents." (excerpted from below)

Luther's Works, Vol. 1, Page 120-128:

About the male he said that he was made out of the dust, that the breath of life was breathed into his face, and that all the living beings were brought before him. When Adam saw no help among them, the woman was made—his partner in procreation and in the preservation of the species. God did not want his descendants to originate in the same way in which Adam was made out of earth; it was His desire that man should have the power of procreation, such as the other animals had. ...Thus Adam was created alone; later on the animals were brought to him, and Adam was put to a test whether he could find or see a partner in that group; finally Eve was created. ...For because God had said: “Grow and increase,” it became necessary to describe how the woman was added to Adam, how she was made and was joined to him. 
 
...But so far as this account is concerned, what, I ask you, could sound more like a fairy tale if you were to follow your reason? Would anyone believe this account about the creation of Eve if it were not so clearly told? This is a reversal of the pattern of the entire creation. Whatever is born alive, is born of the male and the female in such a manner that it is brought forth into the world by the female. Here the woman herself is created from the man by a creation no less wonderful than that of Adam, who was made out of a clod of earth into a living soul. This is extravagant fiction and the silliest kind of nonsense if you set aside the authority of Scripture and follow the judgment of reason. Accordingly, Aristotle declares that neither a first nor a last man can be conceded. Reason would compel us, too, to make the same statement if it did not have this text. If you should reach the conclusion that what the unvarying experience of all creation proves is true, namely, that nothing comes into existence alive except from a male and a female, then no first human being can be conceded.

The same thing would also have to be stated about the world, which the philosophers have, therefore, asserted is eternal. But reason with all its force inclines to this conviction even though proofs founded on reason are thought out by which it is demonstrated that the world is not eternal. How can it take its beginning from nothing? Moreover, if you should say that the world had a beginning and there is a time when the world was not in existence, it immediately follows that there was nothing prior to the world. An endless series of other absurdities follows, and these induce philosophers to conclude that the world is eternal. But if you should say that the world is infinite, then immediately another new infinite will also appear, namely, the succession of human beings. But philosophy does not grant the existence of several infinites, and yet it is compelled to grant them because it knows of no beginning of the world and of men. These contradictions and the lack of clarity gave the Epicureans the opportunity to say that the world and man came into existence without any reason and will also perish without any reason, just as cattle perish, which die as though they had never existed. This leads to another conclusion, namely, that God either plainly does not exist or does not concern Himself with human affairs. Into these perplexing mazes reason is misled when it is without the Word and follows its own judgment.

However, it is useful to realize how it comes about that our reason or wisdom is unable to make a greater advance in understanding the creation. For what, I ask, does a philosopher know about heaven and the world if he does not even know whence it came and whither it tends? Indeed, what do we know about ourselves? We see that we are human beings. But that we have this man for a father and this woman for a mother—this must be believed; it can in no wise be known. Thus our entire knowledge or wisdom is based solely on the knowledge of the material and formal cause, although in these instances, too, we sometimes talk disgraceful nonsense. The efficient and final cause we obviously cannot point out, especially—and this is a wretched situation—when we must discourse or do some thinking about the world in which we exist and live, likewise about ourselves. Such pitiable and inadequate wisdom!

Aristotle declares: “Man and the sun bring mankind into existence.” Well said. But follow this wisdom, and you will arrive at the point where you maintain that man and the sun are eternal and infinite. For you will never find a human being who is either the beginning or the end, just as I cannot find the beginning and the end of my person if I want to gain certain knowledge about this and am not willing to rely on belief. But what sort of wisdom and knowledge is it that knows nothing about the final cause and the efficient cause? So far as our having a knowledge of the form is concerned, a cow likewise knows her abode and (as the German proverb has it) looks at and recognizes her door. This also makes clear how awful was the fall into original sin, through which we have lost this knowledge and have become incapable of seeing either the beginning or the end of ourselves.

Plato, Cicero, and other philosophers who belong to the better sort state in their discussions that man walks with his head erect, while the rest of the beings look at the earth with their heads bent down. To man they attribute reason or the ability to understand; and later they reach the conclusion that man is an extraordinary animal created for immortality. But how tenuous and almost useless this is! All this is based on a knowledge of man’s form. But if you go on to give consideration to his substance, does not reason compel you to declare that this being must again be disintegrated and cannot be immortal?

Therefore let us learn that true wisdom is in Holy Scripture and in the Word of God. This gives information not only about the matter of the entire creation, not only about its form, but also about the efficient and final cause, about the beginning and about the end of all things, about who did the creating and for what purpose He created. Without the knowledge of these two causes our wisdom does not differ much from that of the beasts, which also make use of their eyes and ears but are utterly without knowledge about their beginning and their end.

Therefore this is an outstanding text. The more it seems to conflict with all experience and reason, the more carefully must it be noted and the more surely believed. Here we are taught about the beginning of man that the first man did not come into existence by a process of generation, as reason has deceived Aristotle and the rest of the philosophers into imagining. The reproduction of his descendants takes place through procreation; but the first male was formed and created from a clod of the field, and the first female from the rib of the sleeping man. Here, therefore, we find the beginning which it is impossible to find through Aristotle’s philosophy.

After this beginning was made, there then follows the no less wonderful propagation through the union of a male and female, whereby the entire human race is brought into being from a droplet of the human body. In a similar vein Paul, on the basis of this passage, has a clever discourse among the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:25): “God Himself gives to all ζωὴν καὶ πνοήν, spirit and life everywhere, and from the blood of one man He makes the whole human race that it may dwell on the entire earth, that they may seek God, if perhaps they may feel Him or find Him, although He is not far from each one of us.” Here Paul is speaking of the propagation brought about by the first man when he says “from the blood of one man.” If, therefore, man is brought into existence from a droplet of blood, as the experience of all men on the entire earth bears witness, surely this is no less miraculous than that the first man was created from a clod, and the female from a rib of the man.

But why does the creation of Adam and Eve seem so unbelievable and miraculous, while man’s propagation, which all men know and see, does not seem so miraculous? Undoubtedly because, as Augustine says, miracles become commonplace through their continuous recurrence. Thus we do not marvel at the wonderful light of the sun, because it is a daily phenomenon. We do not marvel at the countless other gifts of creation, for we have become deaf toward what Pythagoras aptly terms this wonderful and most lovely music coming from the harmony of the motions that are in the celestial spheres. But because men continually hear this music, they become deaf to it, just as the people who live at the cataracts of the Nile are not affected by the noise and roar of the water which they hear continually, although it is unbearable to others who are not accustomed to it. Without a doubt he took over this very statement from the teaching of the fathers, but they did not want to be understood as though sound were given off by the motion of the celestial bodies. What they wanted to say was that their nature was most lovely and altogether miraculous, but that we ungrateful and insensible people did not notice it or give due thanks to God for the miraculous establishment and preservation of His creation.

Thus it is a great miracle that a small seed is planted and that out of it grows a very tall oak. But because these are daily occurrences, they have become of little importance, like the very process of our procreation. Surely it is most worthy of wonder that a woman receives semen, that this semen becomes thick and, as Job elegantly said (Job 10:10), is congealed and then is given shape and nourished until the fetus is ready for breathing air. When the fetus has been brought into the world by birth, no new nourishment appears, but a new way and method: from the two breasts, as from a fountain, there flows milk by which the baby is nourished. All these developments afford the fullest occasion for wonderment and are wholly beyond our understanding, but because of their continued recurrence they have come to be regarded as commonplace, and we have verily become deaf to this lovely music of nature.

But if we regarded these wonders in true faith and appraised them for what they actually are, they surely would not be inferior to what Moses says here: that a rib was taken from the side of Adam as he slept and that Eve was created from it. If it had pleased the Lord to create us by the same method by which Adam was created from the clay, by now this, too, would have ceased to hold the position of a miracle for us; we would marvel more at the method of procreation through the semen of a man. This crude doggerel is right, and there was certainly good reason for composing it: “Everything that is rare is appreciated, but what is an everyday occurrence comes to be regarded as commonplace.” If the stars did not rise during every single night or in all places, how great a gathering of people there would be for this spectacle! Now not one of us even opens a window because of it.

Therefore our lack of gratitude deserves to be reproved. if we believe that God is the efficient and the final cause, should we not wonder at His works, delight in them, and proclaim them always and everywhere? But how many are there who really do this from the heart? We hear that God took a clod and made a human being; we wonder at this, and because of our wonder we regard it as a fairy tale. But that He now takes a drop from the blood of the father and creates a human being, this we do not wonder at, because it happens every day, while the other thing was done only once; yet each of the two is brought about through the same skill and the same power and by the same Author. For He who formed man from a clod now creates men from the blood of their parents.

Aristotle, therefore, prates in vain that man and the sun bring man into existence. Although the heat of the sun warms our bodies, nevertheless the cause of their coming into existence is something far different, namely, the Word of God, who gives a command to this effect and says to the husband: “Now your blood shall become a male; now it shall become a female.” Reason knows nothing about this Word. Therefore it cannot get away from its childish prattle about the causes of such important matters. Thus the physicians, who have followed the philosophers, ascribe procreation to a matching mixture of qualities which are active in predisposed matter. Although reason cannot disprove this (for it sees that dry and cold natures are unsuited for generating, while moist and fairly warm ones are better suited), still they have not arrived at the first cause. The Holy Spirit leads us to something higher than nature, higher than qualities and their proper mixture, when He puts before us the Word by which everything is created and preserved.

Therefore that a man is developed from a drop of blood, and not an ox or a donkey, happens through the potency of the Word which was uttered by God. And so, as Christ also teaches in the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9), we call God our Father and our Creator, as the Creed calls Him. When we look at this Cause, then with a chaste and pure heart and with gladness we can speak of those things which otherwise, if this Cause is disregarded, we could not mention without filthiness and indecency.

This discussion also shows how awful the fall into original sin was, since the entire human race knows nothing of its origin. Indeed, we see a man and a woman being joined; we see the woman made pregnant by a droplet of blood; and later, at a definitely fixed time, a baby is brought into the world. These are facts that lie before the eyes of all and are well known; and yet without the reminder and instruction of the Word you have no actual knowledge of the very activity which you are carrying on consciously and with open eyes. The discussions of the philosophers, with which we have already dealt, give sufficient evidence of this. Such horrible blindness and such a pitiful lack of knowledge!

Accordingly, if Adam had persevered in innocence, it would have been unnecessary to instruct his descendants about their origin, just as it was unnecessary to instruct Adam about the creation of his Eve, because the moment he saw her, he himself was aware that she was bone from his bones and flesh from his flesh. That kind of knowledge of themselves and of the remaining creatures would have remained also among the descendants of Adam. All would have become aware at once of the final and efficient cause about which we now have no more knowledge than cattle have.

For the ears of reason, consequently, this is a very beautiful and pleasing fairy tale, which the philosophers enjoyed ridiculing when they heard about it, as some of them did, especially those who had become acquainted with the science and wisdom of the Egyptians. But it is incalculable wisdom for us to know what is taught by this foolish fairy tale, as the world calls it, namely, that the beginning of man’s coming into existence was through the Word, inasmuch as God takes a clod and says: “Let Us make a man.” Later He likewise takes a rib of Adam and says: “Let Us make a helper for man.”