Friday, February 15, 2008

Suffering – Antithesis to the Contraceptive Mentality

In previous posts, I’ve hinted at the discovery of both ecstasy and beauty through suffering. In keeping with this line of thought, I would like to share a few thoughts in two parts on the purgative effect of suffering on the contraceptive mentality. I say “purgative” because of the fact that the authentically Christian experience of suffering and the contraceptive mentality are so antithetical in nature that there cannot be a “both…and” relationship. It must be an “either…or” dichotomy, for the two cannot coexist for long. Many may already be aware that these thoughts are the fruit of experience as I myself had to experience this purgation in dealing with my wife’s illness. In this first part, the nature of the contraceptive mentality will be reviewed along with the utilitarianism it engenders.

Why is the contraceptive mentality a danger to one’s marriage? It becomes like an empty glass to the one who is thirsty. One dying of thirst may hallucinate because of the fact that he’s dying of thirst and believe that he is drinking water from the objectively empty glass in order to slake his thirst, yet it is nothing more than a hallucination. This hallucination will be the death of him, for as long as he continues to believe that he is actually drinking water, he continues to die of thirst. The same goes for the marriage act. To empty the act of that for which it is made will lead to the slow but sure exsanguination of the marriage, and the belief that a husband and wife can safely sexually express their marriage with the goal of excluding unity and new life is nothing more than a hallucination.

Keeping all of this in mind, one should naturally begin to question the place of artificial contraception within marriage. Artificial contraception and the reasons for the use of it reflect a desire to obtain pleasure without the primary goals of unity and new life. In fact, the primary goals are actively battled against, as though they are a hindrance to the expression of the marriage, when in fact, unity and new life are the very reasons for being for the sexual act, a fact made clear from both a biological and natural law standpoint. The use of artificial contraception, therefore, hinges upon selfishness and creates a situation in which unity and new life are impossibilities. Yet the contraceptive mentality directs one to believe that the marriage is safe even though it has been emptied of its vitality.

I would suggest that a contraceptive mentality even causes adverse effects upon our view of suffering and the proper way to deal with it. Because the contraceptive mentality fosters selfishness and feeds the obsession for pleasure at the exclusion of self-giving, suffering becomes a thing to be avoided at all costs, for suffering seems to be the exact opposite of pleasure. Within such a context, suffering cannot be seen as an opportunity to empty oneself for love of another. I clearly remember thinking many times after Beth’s condition began causing extreme problems, “What am I going to do? How am I supposed to deal with this?” What I should have been thinking was, “What can I do for Beth? How are we going to deal with this?” This insight would come after having been through the fire and learning from my mistakes, mainly by having them pointed out by trusted friends. The suffering involved in caring for a suffering loved one is profound, and it demands the denial of one’s own desires and necessitates a “standing outside of oneself”. This concept of “standing outside of oneself” is necessary to understand if we wish to correct our views of sex and suffering which for the most part are formed by cultural viruses like MTV, Sex and the City, Paris Hilton, and other such misfits. Please refer to my other post entitled An Ecstatic Suffering.

There was a point during my wife’s illness at which she was capable of doing nothing other than talking, and even that was labored. To make matters more dreadful, there seemed to be no end in sight except for that end that everyone must undergo at some point. This was a time of spiritual and emotional freefall. It was as though there was nothing to hold on to. The bottom had dropped out and everything was getting worse at an alarming rate. Nothing seemed to make sense anymore. I would often ask God why he would allow us to marry and then snatch everything away from us. “How could You bless our union, and then make it impossible to live it out? What purpose could You possibly serve by ruining our marriage and our life together?” This revealed the utilitarian mindset that I had fallen to, which seems to naturally spawn from the contraceptive mentality. In my mind, since we weren’t being “productive”, then we weren’t being successful, and God was the reason for this failure. What I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around was the possibility that maybe, just maybe, what we were actually doing was living out our marriage in exactly the way God wanted us to: true to our vows, self-sacrificial, and totally dependent upon Him. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, we were on the road to success within our marriage by learning how to be submissive to God’s will, by offering up our sufferings to God, and through self-sacrifice.

Stay tuned for the second part which will recount a personal experience of the actual purgative effect that suffering has on this contraceptive mentality.

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