Another take on family planning

I was shocked to read John Zmirak’s explanation for why we should not question the use of NFP among the financially prosperous.

Let’s look at the duty of almsgiving to the poor–something Our Lord talked about more than almost anything else during His earthly ministry. How much and when are we obligated to give? In The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living, I addressed this as follows, starting with a quote from Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum:

“True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, ‘for no one ought to live other than becomingly.’ But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one’s standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over.”

In other words, prosperous people, social classes, or countries are not obliged to abolish inequality. Wealthy Catholics need not give away so much that they become middle- or working-class, and prosperous nations need not transfer their “surplus” GNP to the developing world.

If Leo XIII was right that one is not obligated to abandon educational goals, drop down a social class, or otherwise neglect his “condition in life” for the very grave duty of alms-giving, why should that obligation be imposed for something Our Lord never mentioned: more frequent child-bearing? Surely, once we have rejected the immoral means of contraception, decisions about how “generous” to be in child-bearing must fall under the same prudential rubrics we use in deciding how much to give to charity or the Church.

NFP is hard to practice, I am told–as hard as training for a marathon. If it’s anything like that challenging, we need not worry that too many people will do it for frivolous reasons. We should worry about loading down the Church’s real teaching with enough false scruples that people find it absurd and reject it.

The Spiritual Franciscans fell into heresy by insisting that the laity obey the evangelical counsel of poverty. Might the anti-NFP people be doing the same thing, by trying to impose (on pain of mortal sin) the burden of “providentialism”? A few religious orders, like the Theatines, adopted “providentialism” when it came to their finances–not even soliciting donations, or keeping financial reserves. They just waited for money to show up. Admirable. If they had taught that every religious order (or for that matter, the father of every family) was obligated under pain of mortal sin to do the same, this teaching would have been damnable.

Does that not bite? I suspect that we should in fact consider what more we must sacrifice if we are to be Saints, but we must question why we are so quick to condemn NFP when we never even think to question those who hold onto their material wealth.

Perhaps it is time for a discussion of “just” reasons for having more than that which is necessary to survive in a world where others are dying from lack of clean water?

Catholic Fights , , , ,

1 comment

  1. Well, I agree with your conclusion: that the author should have questioned the first part of the reasoning and its conclusion.

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