While I have begged off further involvement in a debate here a while back about the Catholic Church’s reputation and the Vatican’s legitimacy (see here), my opponent David made an interesting comment about God’s immutability and I’ve been planning to address that subject ever since, as well as contraception (since David and I went pretty heavily back and forth on the rightness or wrongness of birth control), and the ways the two issues tie together in some ways.
This post may be a bit of a ramble. Apologies in advance if so.
God is, reportedly, immutable, unchanging and eternal. I really have no argument with that (though I also have no proof of it). I know a lot of agnostics and atheists do reject the unchanging nature of God, and they often contend such notions with talk about God’s personality shifts in the Bible, but I disregard that line of argument. I disregard it in part because I believe it is less a case of God changing than of God changing the way He approaches people.
And really, how could He not?
Humanity has evolved (genetically, socially, technologically, etc.) in so many ways. God had forged multiple covenants with humans not because He cannot make up His mind but because dealing with us is an ongoing process, and guiding us toward the next steps in our spiritual development (in this life and beyond it) is an ever-shifting process.
Now, Jesus pretty much put a final stamp on the basic theology and the priorities we are supposed to have. Given the period in which he appeared historically speaking, it was probably as good a time as any to make a “final” covenant that would carry humans through until God’s plans were complete in terms of our time here on Earth.
However, I cannot help but notice that Jesus didn’t talk about nearly as many things as the apostles did after he was gone, and Jesus certainly didn’t emphasize the minutiae of the Old Testament laws. I cannot help but notice that Jesus kept it pretty simple and basic. I also cannot help but notice that while Jesus himself followed Jewish law for the most part, he didn’t uplift it as something to be a slave to, and he broke it in cases where it was irresponsible to follow the law simply for the sake of the law.
And here’s where I get to contraception, boys and girls.
First off, let’s toss that Onan shit out the window. Anyone who can read that story and still say it was about masturbation being evil and contraception being evil has totally and completely missed the point that Onan was punished because God told him he needed to get a child on a certain woman after all his brothers had died and Onan failed to do so because he didn’t want to. If God was so mad at masturbation, why kill that guy, after centuries upon centuries of masturbation and coitus interruptis, and no one else? God had a mission for that man, for some reason, and Onan defied God and did so in a highly disrespectful manner. End of story. Don’t anyone argue with me on that point. Don’t even start. Jacking off was NOT the sin in that story.
Now, you can point to various things in the Bible and extrapolate that God wanted men and women to marry and have lots of kids. Great. But let’s take that in context. The world was not overpopulated at the time. Women were often little more than baby-makers, sometimes little more than chattel, and so from a societal standpoint, they weren’t considered useful aside from family-rearing. Also, families needed new blood to keep things going and run the farm (or herd the sheep, or make the boats, or whatever). Fathers needed heirs. Infant mortality was high. Many women died young thanks to birth complications.
So, of course there is going to be a focus on marrying people off and having them breed in those times. Particularly as regards Isreal, because if God set them as his messenger and the venue through which Jesus would come, so He’d be particularly keen on them making plenty of babies and remain viable on the Middle Eastern stage. So, for the Bible to support “be fruitful and multiply” made sense then.
But that is not the world we live in now. Many things in the world today are not covered biblically and attempts to use the Bible to deal with current issues based on anachronistic origins end up ringing untrue for that very reason. End of life decisions, abortion, pornography, electronic interactions and a ton of other things are all things that not only didn’t really factor into daily life (or at all) in Jesus’ time (or before) but also don’t even have any logical parallels with things covered by the Bible.
So, times change. The Bible is meant to be a guide, not a lawbook. It doesn’t change to keep up. God doesn’t check back in with us to give us the Commandments version 25.1 or something. We are expected to try to act as much in concert with the Holy Spirit as possible. But when something like the Vatican makes blanket rules and says they will never change and we’re going to keep doing it because we have been for 2,000 years (or longer) doesn’t make sense.
Is it really sensible to think that God wants married people to have sex only when they plan to make kids? No. Sex is also a relationship-bonding experience. It is, I dare say, a spiritual experience when I give my wife an orgasm, when I get one, or when we both come together (blessed be those nights…and sometimes mornings or afternoons). If God’s goal was only for us to breed, why not leave us with mating seasons and specific sexual cycles? Why have it be something that feels so good and cements a loving relationship so well, and have it only be for baby-making? So, right there, we’re already off track when contraception is condemned because of the notion that every sexual act should be potentially procreative.
Jumping to the next point, does it really make sense in this resource-strapped world, with so many poor and so few rich but so much wealth in the hands of a tiny number of people, that God wants us to breed like bunnies? Is it really wise for us to do so? No. It makes us poor stewards of the planet. China has population control policies, and look how huge THEY are. What if they didn’t have such policies? What if every married couple in the United States in these modern times had families of six to 15 kids or something. When my dad was young, that was tenable. Now, it’s environmentally irresponsible and financially untenable. Did God not give us free will so that we could exercise some common damn sense?
Contraception is not evil, and attempts to make it so are simply a game of maintaining the status quo for the sake of comfort or habit or plain ignorance.
Is is because we change that we were sent the Holy Spirit, and why we have to try to listen to that spirit of God. It is because we change that God approaches us in different ways at different time. And for a long time now, it’s been right and appropriate for God not to overtly reveal himself, because it is through the search for Him and our attempt to forge a relationship with Him (by whatever means, Christian or otherwise) that we show we are honoring those things spiritual.
The Vatican needs to get up off that no-contraception policy, as do many other Christians and non-Christians. People need to stop calling God a victim of capriciousness and multiple-personality disorder simply as a way of disregarding religion.
And we all need to keep up with the times. But that doesn’t mean throwing out Jesus’ teachings. It means keeping them in context.