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The pope and condoms

William Crawley | 10:08 UK time, Monday, 23 March 2009

po3.jpgThe Vatican is currently working hard at damage-limitation following Pope Benedict's claim that condoms can make the problem of Aids worse. David Willey, the BBC's correspondent in Rome, used the word "doctoring" yesterday, on Sunday Sequence, to describe the text of the pope's comments that's been released by his officials. According to the "official" text of the comments, which were given in answer to a question from journalists on the papal plane en route to Cameroon last Tuesday, the pope said condoms "risk" making the problem worse. The pope's comments were recorded by reporters, and the recording has the pope saying that the distribution of condoms "even aggravates the problems".

Some commentators say there's nothing new in this, the pope was merely restating Catholic teaching on condoms. Official Catholic teaching regards all artificial contraception as sinful (in fact, "intrinsically evil'). The pope, however, has gone further than Catholic teaching in making an empirical claim that condoms are ineffective in the fight against HIV and Aids. It's one thing to take a moral and theological position on the use of condoms, it's quite another to make a statement about their effectiveness as a public health strategy.

We predicted a massive row when the pope made his comments on Tuesday. The chorus of condemnation has grown stronger with every passing day. The French foreign minister described the pope as a "threat to public health". Other European governments, including Benedict's native Germany, were equally unimpressed. And the media launched salvo after salvo of negative reporting. The New York Times editorial chose a pointedly theological term; it said the pope deserved no "credence".

Even if Pope Benedict has not made his empirical comment, his view that condoms should never be distributed as part of an HIV prevention strategy, even to people in high-risk countries, is controversial enough. Some Catholic theologians have made a case for the use of condoms as a life-protection measure (as opposed to a contraception device) and believe their argument is consistent with the church's general moral teaching on artificial contraception, but, so far, Pope Benedict has unrelentingly maintained the line that condoms are never to be recommended.

The Catholic News Agency has run an interview with a Harvard researcher who "agrees with pope on condoms in Africa". Dr Edward Green is a Senior Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health and Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard University, where his heads a research project on Aids prevention.

Dr Green is sometimes described as an Aids researcher in press coverage. We should be clear about his area of expertise. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the Catholic University of America and studies public health strategies "at the level of population". He is not a medical doctor, nor is he a virologist, nor is he an epidemiologist. He is a widely-respected academic who examines the impact of various public health strategies in various populations.

In 2003, he published a book, Rethinking Aids Prevention, which challenged the general approach to Aids preventing in the developing world. Specifically, he argued that the most successful strategy for preventing the spread of HIV in Africa was not the distribution of condoms but campaigns encouraging people to reduce their number of sexual partners. Monogamy was a powerful behavioural defence against HIV, he said. Condoms, though technically able to prevent the spread of HIV when used correctly, have failed, according to Dr Green. Why have they failed? According to Pope Benedict, condoms encourage promiscuity and this drives the Aids pandemic. According to Dr Green -- who has no moral or religious objection to the use of condoms -- this strategy in Africa has has the counter-effect of encouraging people to engage in riskier behaviour while believing that they are protected by condoms. "This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction 'technology' such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by 'compensating' or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology," he says.

These conclusions led Dr Green to change his view on the usefulness of condoms in Africa. Notice that he maintains their usefulness in other parts of the world, such as the United States; he regards Africa as a special case for cultural reasons. He explains the special cultural circumstances of countries such as Uganda in this essay. The upshot is that Dr Green strongly supports the ABC model in HIV prevention: "Abstain, Be faithful, or use Condoms if A and B are not practiced". In the same year that Rethinking Aids was published, Dr Green was appointed by George W Bush's Advisory Presidential Council on HIV and Aids. (Read a Christianity Today interview with Dr Green here).

It is vital that we have a serious debate about HIV prevention and that we locate that debate geographically and culturally. It is wrong at the outset to simply assume that an HIV prevention model that works in the United States or Europe would necessarily work in sub-Saharan Africa. Researchers who believe condoms are an effective strategy represent the majority position within the HIV prevention community.

Against Dr Green's concerns about "risk compensation", they argue that this points to a greater need for accompanying education programmes explaining the proper use of condoms and challenging risky behaviour.

The UN Aids programme accepts -- who wouldn't? -- that "other components [of a successful HIV prevention strategy] include delay of sexual initiation, abstinence, being mutually faithful to each other when both partners are uninfected, and reducing the number of sexual partners. But the UN emphasises that condoms still play a very significant role and their promotion must be culturally sensitive: "Condoms must be promoted in ways that help overcome sexual and personal obstacles to their use. Complex gender and cultural factors can be a challenge for HIV prevention education and condom promotion. Due to gender norms and inequalities, young girls and women are regularly and repeatedly denied information about, and access to, condoms, and often they do not have the power to negotiate the use of condoms."

Against Dr Green's claims that condoms have been ineffective in countries such as Uganda, the World Health Organisation maintains that "recent analysis of the AIDS epidemic in Uganda has confi rmed that increased condom use, in conjunction with delay in age of first sexual intercourse and reduction of sexual partners, was an important factor in the decline of HIV prevalence in the 1990s." This statement references a 2003 research paper exploring the Ugandan experience, "The Roles of Abstinence, Mongamy and Condom Use in HIV Decline", published by The Alan Guttmacher Institute in Washington DC. Read the paper in full here. This analysis concludes that "positive behavior change in all three areas of ABC, abstinence, being faithful (monogamy) and condom use have contributed to the decline of HIV in Uganda to sustained lower levels." It's a long way from that statement to the claim that condoms are making the problem of Aids worse.


  • Comment number 1.

    "Dame" limitation? I know the vatican is averse to the female of the species, but did they need a policy?

    A spelling mistake I think; surley you meant "damnation limitation" Will.


  • Comment number 2.

    Ruth Gledhill of The Times is quoted on another thread - but on the same subject - as hoping that her comments wont be seen as another "Paisleyite" attack on the Catholic Church.

    This got me thinking. Having only contributed to this blogg site for two months (therefore, I might have this wrong) I noticed that when ever there has been a particularly RC subject matter, the contributions have been less forthcoming. I wondered if contributors were fearing what Ruth fears, that they'd be accused of being anti-Catholic or indeed of being sectarian.

    I also noticed that whenever a subject can be commented on with reference to scripture, the thread inevitably turns into a veritable rope!!

    Given the ethical/moral/social impact of this particular subject, I'd love to hear a biblical argument for or against the use of condoms, given the particularly unique circumstances humanity finds itself in, in today's world.

    I think its particularly interesting given that it should make our biblical 'scholars' on here have to do a bit of searching and thinking to form an opinion since, to my knowledge, there is no reference to condoms in the Bible. So a sentence cant be snatched at and errected into, "God said......."

  • Comment number 3.


    I suspect that your observations are probably mainly to do with the religious makeup of the regular posters on here...

    as far as I can see, it does seem to be skewed towards the reformed tradition - which is no bad thing, of course. :)

    But I suspect that also explains the prevalence of scriptural references.

    As for biblical arguments, of course contraception isn't really a problem for the reformed tradition, from which you'd be most likely to hear a scriptural argument.

    Catholic teaching obviously draws on the magisterium of the Church, so a biblical argument isn't strictly neccessary. after all, there are no strictly biblical arguments for many of the tenets of our faith.

  • Comment number 4.

    Thanks Bernard. I suppose, although I have my mind fairly well made up about contraception, I'm trying to illicit a response from those who use the Bible as their cornerstone for everything.

    (Yes, the RC Church has its Magisterium, but it also has its sensus fideii (belief of the people under the guidance of the H Sp.) which would appear to be at loggerheads with the magisterium on this one. And quite a few others!!)

    My motive for the question was a personal one to see how someone who adheres to a literal translation of the Bible, forms a moral opinion on a subject where there is no obvious biblical directive.

  • Comment number 5.

    The use of condoms to prevent the spread of disease is absolutely biblical. As is the use of condoms for planning families. The Vatican position is out of date and out of step - both with the world of science and with catholics around the world. Catholics now discount the church's advice on sex. Wisely. This pope's comments have reduced what authority the church had in the lives of ordinary catholics.

  • Comment number 6.

    How is it absolutely Biblical, Jovial?

    I can see how God using disease, plague, famine etc.. to punish, is Biblical.

    But I cant see any examples of God stopping the spread of disease in the Bible, (certainly none involving rubber.)

  • Comment number 7.


    I'll go out on a limb here and guess you're not a practising Priest. (-;

    I think you're spot on - on two counts

    (i) Evangelicals tend to quote the Bible like it is magic words. Guilty as charged.

    Don't get me wrong - I believe that I am bound by God's word. But I can't just quote a verse and switch of my brain. Following God through the Scriptures is not just following commands, it is hearing and responding to a call. I have to "think God's thoughts after him" so far as I am able. That is, I should try to see and articulate the wisdom behind these commands. Try to make sense of the comprehensive picture of reality that lies behind the bible, and try to work out a systematic world view that follows from it. So my mind has to be transformed, and that means being able to articulate some rationale for biblical ethics etc.
    And to this end, I've found Aquinas and his followers very helpful. If this thread rolls on, I'll spell out why I don't buy the ban on contraception. But I don't think the RC churches teaching on this is easily dismissed as authoritarian and backward. This tends to be the secular response.

    (ii) I think there is a strong secular suspicion of Roman Catholicism that has spilled over from the Protestant propaganda of previous centuries. RC practice is "superstitious" and the magisteria "dictatorial". So, for example, secularists take a view of the Galileo incident, that was dreamt up by 17th Century Protestant zealots. Or Bertrand Russell can imagine Roman Catholic missionaries killing newborn Indians to prevent the infants' damnation. Hysterical tripe - but of a piece with outlandish Protestant tracts.
    So, ironically, you have Dawkinsistas relying on mouldy Protestant tracts for their view of the Science/Religion conflict, and Evangelical Protestants voicing approval of Secularist intolerance.
    Evangelicals are far too reluctant to criticise secular paranoid delusions about Catholicism. But then the fundamentalist prayer was "Lord save us from Modernism, Liberalism and Catholicism".

    Because we all know how modernist and liberal the Catholic Church is.

    (iii) Finally, I'm a little unclear about your request for a Biblical case for/against contraception. Do you mean a case that only involves quoting isolated verses? Or chapters?
    Or can I articulate themes that run through the canon? Certain presuppositions necessary to make sense of Scripture? Or what logically follows from certain teachings?
    Can I supplement my case with natural theology, or consequentialist arguments?
    If I have to stop with simple quotations I'm in trouble - but why do I have to stop there? What is your concern here? Am I one of the literalists that bother you? I'm confused.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 8.

    GVeale you are now officially my best pal on this site!!

    In your last post I learned so much. Well done.

    Biblically, I know there are no references to condoms, (or any other barrier contraceptives.) But are there mentions of stopping procreation in other ways? God forbid, are there any 'euphemisms' there where we might draw conclusions?

    Or as you say, can we identify any deeper themes there?

    We could then branch out into other spheres but I'm more interested in exposing the way some people use their Bibles.

  • Comment number 9.


    The following might also interest you.

    One, this link, which while not giving any specific biblical references, probably because on this particular topic that would be impossible, is a Reformed view which suggests that evangelicals probably don't really know what they believe! Please note, the article raises the issue of abortion, understand everyone that I'm NOT trying to do that, merely giving a reference.



    Second, not all Protestants either now, or historically, supported birth control. I understand that people like Luther, Calvin and Spurgeon opposed its use.

    On the more general point about our use of the bible, yes Protestants are all too guilty of 'proof-texting' or worse, as Graham says, superstition. I once got told off for passing a bible to another person by throwing it. :-)

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for link, Peter. (I see why you want to distance yourself from it, though. It jumps from being quite an informative, argued piece on contraception into an anti-abortion rant.)

    Isnt it crazy how some people try and show their reverence for the Bible by bowing to it, holding it aloft, swearing on it, quoting from it and not throwing it!!! etc... and yet they refuse to show reverence to it by applying their intelligence to it?

  • Comment number 11.


    I think there are a couple of things going on here, from a Protestant point of view anyway.

    In terms of the question you raised about the use of the bible, I do find it a bit frustrating when Protestants (and we do this in many ways) take texts out of context and springboard off them, often using them as they are not intended or over spiritualising them. This is a huge issue in itself and we could spend much time discussing our use of the scriptural text.

    The other aspect, in terms of this thread, is how Protestants make moral decisions on topics not directly mentioned in the bible. Sometimes I fear that we Protestants hold particular views simply because they are the opposite of Catholicism! without really having any biblical basis for our beliefs. It is for this reason that I found the linked article useful; as you say, it is a reasonably well presented Protestant view of birth control and indicates how a wider reading and understanding of the bible can help us reach such decisions.

    It terms of abortion, I wasn't particularly distancing myself from it, just indicating that I wasn't seeking to debate that topic, as I have previously done so on this blog. However there probably is some relevance to the issue of abortion in that some who support the use of birth control, yet oppose abortion, might not fully realise the implications of certain types of birth control available.

    Certainly the Roman Catholic position of 'no, not ever' (which is how I understand it) frees the church from these other related dilemmas.

    It might also surprise some (possibly many) Protestants to realise that there is a substantial anti birth control lobby in the reformed churches.

  • Comment number 12.

    #2 - RJB - "I also noticed that whenever a subject can be commented on with reference to scripture, the thread inevitably turns into a veritable rope!! ... I'd love to hear a biblical argument for or against the use of condoms..."

    You may be relieved to know that there is no "biblical" argument on this topic, but, of course, that depends what we mean by "biblical". In fact, if we want to throw proof texts around, the Bible doesn't actually say a great deal on many of the issues we encounter in our daily lives. But "biblical" can mean "that which results from a deeper understanding of the Bible" - which of course is dependent on interpretation.

    Is it possible (with reference to the Bible) to enjoy a sexual relationship with another person without feeling concerned that such a relationship would lead to pregnancy? This poses another question: Is it morally right (biblically) to intervene in the natural processes of the body?

    Those who would argue that those who engage in sexual intercourse should accept the consequences, which could be pregnancy, hold to a belief based on the presupposition that in all we do we should allow the proper functions of the body to take their natural course. It would be considered immoral to prevent the natural course of events.

    But is this presupposition supported by the Bible?

    It is clear that God does command that people sometimes tamper with the human body in order for his will to be realised. One example is circumcision. That could be construed to be a gross violation of nature. If it is a righteous thing always to allow nature to "take its proper course" then slicing off a boy's or man's foreskin must be regarded as a serious "intrinsic evil". But God commanded this to be done in ancient Israel. Jesus himself, of course, was circumcised.

    One of Jesus' sayings, which is notoriously difficult to handle (in my opinion), is found in Mark 9:43-48: "if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off ... if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off ... if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out..." etc. There are different ways to interpret this, and I can't help but feel that Jesus is simply employing a "reductio ad absurdum" argument to show the logical implications of the belief from Greek philosophy that the body is intrinsically evil (in other words, people may just blame their bodies for what they do wrong, rather than take responsibility). "If you think your bodies are so evil, then why don't you destroy them?" is what Jesus is perhaps saying.

    But there is also another possible interpretation. Jesus is highlighting the central importance of the spiritual aspect of life, and the perfect natural functioning of one's own body is not to be regarded as "sacrosanct" if it gets in the way of one's faith in God and the well-being of other people. So, by way of contemporary application: if a woman cannot realistically cope with any more children, would it not be merciful for her husband to have a vasectomy, so that at least they can still have a sexual relationship without worrying about pregnancy? (I am not advocating the snip for people who have no intention of ever having children, but it is not wrong in certain situations, IMO). The husband may be a devout Christian, but he has to be prepared to allow his body to be damaged for the well-being of his wife. That is what I mean by saying that "the body is not sacrosanct" if it gets in the way of spiritual and emotional well-being.

    Of course, we should respect other people's bodies, but Jesus is referring to what a person could do to his own body. So to (maybe cheekily) paraphrase the words of Christ: "If your vas deferens causes you to impose an intolerable burden on the one you love, get it cut it two!"

    I find it rather interesting that some Christians are against sterilisation, as it "violates" the body, but yet are not against war, which involves an even greater violation of the body! Apparently it's an "intrinsic evil" to have the snip or cover your member with a piece of rubber, but it's OK to send young people into a "just war" to have their whole bodies blown to bits in the service of a supposedly righteous cause!! And what about those sects which practise self-flagellation? They believe it is a spiritually edifying thing to damage their own bodies, but woe betide anyone who allows his body to be "damaged" for the well-being of his wife!

    What makes me feel quite angry is when certain religious leaders demand that Christian couples have regular sex without contraception with the result that they end up with large families. They may indeed actually want a large family, but is it right to force a large family on them through the use of spiritual intimidation? And furthermore, these priests, being celibate, will not experience those same pressures. And would these religious leaders pledge to support those families financially? Correct me if I am wrong, but I doubt it. This situation reminds me Matthew 23:4 - "They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."

    I don't know whether I have answered your question, but at least I have lengthened the "rope" of this thread, and hopefully have not hung myself on it by my own words!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks LSV. Again, rather than go into the moral issues surrounding contraception, I'm focussing on our use of the Bible.

    I havent hidden my frustration regarding those who read the Bible and take it literaly.

    But neither am I filled with christian love and joy for those who take its words and pulverise them with over intellectualised, indulgent scrutiny. For example, twenty years ago I asked a question in scripture study about the apocalyptic passage where Jesus says that some of his listeners will still be alive when these things have taken place. I made the point that these things hadnt all taken place and his listeners were all dead.
    The professor replied, "Some scholars believe that Jesus had such a prophetic aspect to him that sometimes he saw the future and the present as interwoven, therefore he could have been confused." I kid you not!

    Now I was just a bit afraid that we were straying into the latter territory with your last post.
    My understanding of circumcision was that the early Jews were a nomadic race who roamed the Steppes of Russia originally. They spent so much time in the desert that circumcision became necessary for simple personal hygene purposes. It was then later religisized. As with so many things in religion (and royalty, ironically enough) there was a very human origin for many practices before they were hijacked. (The origins of the use of the red carpet is extremely interesting.)

    The passage about plucking out your eye if it causes you to sin etc... Jesus playing with Greek Philosophy...? Or Jesus trying to emphasise the spiritual aspect of the body....?

    Those types of explanations always seemed overelaborate and not really believable - but then I was always accused of being a bit anti-intellectual.

    I think most of the contentious passages are pretty easily interpreted.
    Pluck out your eye, cut off your hand....... be honest and compassionate with one another, seems to be a pretty reasonable reading of that one and I'll bet I'm not a million miles away from Christ's intention there.

    Does Jesus want people to catch AIDS?
    Would he allow the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS?
    Of course he would.

    This is the same guy, we are told, who praised David for feeding his men the sacred bread, which was only to be eaten by the High Priests, and stopped his men dying of hunger. I would see that passage as tremendously insightful about the thinking of Jesus into so many issues.

    And of course, the same guy who got extremely upset at people loading burdens on the shoulders of the poor and not lifting a finger to help - as you rightly pointed out.

  • Comment number 14.


    If you'd been around a little bit longer you'd have read my occasionally vitriolic attacks on both the Roman Church and the Papacy.

    I am a Protestant though I am not quite sure how Reformed I might be! I come from a very different tradition from many of my fellow Protestant posters. I have never, for example, been through the doors of the Crescent Church, never heard Derick Bingham speak, never read anything he wrote. I haven't posted on the Washing Machine thread because I have no real interest beyond the literary in the Book of Genesis - it tells us nothing about God and nothing very relevant about the people who wrote it either.

    However, let me step into the breach and offer some scriptural guidance on the use of condoms: I would suggest they are mandatory in extra-marital affairs especially when conducted with exotic beauties of possibly African extraction. I cite the Song of Solomon. Twice we are told "Thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate behind thy veil" and in chapter 4 v 4 we read "Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all the shields of the mighty men". Pretty incontrovertible don't you think?

  • Comment number 15.

    The issue of Reformed theology and condoms: though there was certainly a debate amongst reformers about sex and procreation, Reformed theologians today are practically unanimous in arguing that sex for non-procreative purposes within marriage is legitimate, and that condoms can be used both for family planning and as a health promotion strategy. There's really no debate about that. The Catholic position has been shaped by theological perspectives in humane vitae and many catholic theologians regret that association.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    The Catholic Church is ahead of many Protestants on matters of science, whereas it lags behind them on matters of sex.

    Thus it accepts evolution, while creationists are almost invariably Protestants. On the other hand, it opposes contraception, whereas most Protestants don't have a big problem with it.

    The reasons for this difference is that the Catholic Church relies on church authority as well as the Bible, and control over sex is necessary as a means of exercising control over the people. Cosmological matters, on the other hand, are not a threat to its authority.

    The literalist Protestant, on the other hand, can convince himself that whatever is not prohibited in the Bible is permitted.

    In the long span, from a Humanist perspective, Protestantism is generally an advance because, theoretically at least, it implies freedom of the individual from authoritarian control. Historically, it can therefore be seen as a step towards a more liberal, democratic, open and secular society.

    Of course, if it leads to enslavement to an obsolete book, then it is not really progress at all. In many advanced societies the Reformation was a step towards secularism; alas, in places like 'Ulster' it became a step backwards into surrender to antiquated dogma.

    Literalist Protestants are in a bit of a quandary over contraception. They want to take the pleasure out of sex but know that condoms put it back in.

  • Comment number 18.

    As i understand it, the Catholic position on contraception is more about monogamy and sexual morality than about procreation.

    I was taught at school, not that we can only have sex in order to procreate, but that we should only have sex in the context of established committed relationships.

    Hence the complete approval of natural contraception.

    The view is that mechanised and unhuman contraception implies a cheapening and a causalisation of sexual relations.

    It is easy to have a one night stand and to use artificial contraception. it is not so easy if you want to use natural contraception.

    So men and women are encouraged to enjoy a healthy sexuality, despite what Brian says.

    The issue is with the cheapening of sexual relations.

  • Comment number 19.

    I'd also add another nuance to the Catholic Magisterium position (I think a distinction really has to be made between the Hierarchy and the position held and lived by most Catholics.)

    There is the 'no, not now, not ever' mentality in the Catholic Hierarchy in order to maintain control, but also because they have always feared opening up the floodgates.

    If we allow barrier contraception, where will it lead? If we allow abortion in certain circumstances, how long before we have abortion on demand? Stem cell research, etc.. etc..

    This mentality certainly plays a role in present RC teaching.

    And while I've certainly been keeping a critical eye on the more fundamentalist contributors on this site, I can assure you, they are very much alive and well in my church and flourishing under the present regime.

  • Comment number 20.

    I think it migt be important to clarify that it isn't so much that an intelligent case for the Magisterium's doctrines on sexuality and contraception cannot be advanced. It can and it has been.
    I think that it is more the case that the case, whilst coherent, did not seem compelling enough to require that all Christians believe in it also.
    Aquinas' views on sexuality are actually quite subtle. I can see *why* he might go on to infer that periodic use of contraception, oral sex, etc. are not permitted in marriages, given that marriage is a certain way of life that achieves certian goods, procreation being one of them.
    It is not that "interfering with bodily processes" is wrong. It is only when something is in line with reason that we can draw ethical inferences. After all, we could argue that an overwhelming desire for self-preservation is naturally occurring, but that does not make cowardice good. We have rational souls, on Aqunias' view that are part of human nature. These must be taken into account when we are reflecting on what is good or bad for humans.

    And Aquinas is explicit - pleasure can be sought, and is not wrong, and is a natural and good part of sexual desire.
    It is that by expressing sexual desire in ways that deliberately try to evade the good of procreation, we are acting irrationally. Marriage is good as it is God's intended means of bringing children into the world and nurturing them (and because it brings two individuals into one "way of life", a one-flesh relationship, and the two goods are inextricably linked).
    So if we attempt to avoid the good of procreation we are attempting to thwart God's intentions for marriage. Marriage has a teleology aimed at certain goods, and it is not up to us to to interfere with that teleology. It is against reason to enjoy all the goods of marriage whilst trying to undermine some of those goods. Or so the argument goes.
    Now I can see why a married couple may come to that conclusion, and not use contraception (or never use ways of satisfying each other short of full intercourse etc.) But marriage is a good "way of life" and as long as a couple does not live out their whole marriage *wishing* never to have children, I cannot see why they cannot use contraception prudently (or sometimes settle for "second / third base"). I don't see any one argument that settles the issue.
    Now as an Evangelical, I'll test Aquinas model of marriage by Scripture. And it seems to fit with the Bible's teachings on marriage (Matt 19, Gen 1-2,Song of Solomon, Proverbs, Eph 5 etc) and the best examples of marriages, and the various prohibitions on certain sexual practices that stay constant across cultures.
    But I can't think of any passage that definitively resolves the difference of opinion between the two married couples - one never using contraception the other prudently using contraception.
    So because Scripture cannot decide the issue, and no clear argument from agreed premises resolves the argument, I don't believe that any Church authority should have the power to resolve the dispute.

    Perhaps with one exception - if it could be shown that a particular practice has horrific consequences for society or the Church, then perhaps a church authority could ban or oppose it for pragmatic reasons. But a pragmatic case can be made in two directions. Mass production of contraceptives could arguably benefit Africa, but has arguably harmed the West. So which continent takes precedence? I think Humanae Vitae's consequentialist arguments need to be taken seriously by Western culture - other cultures may need alternative points of view.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 21.

    When you say that;

    "Mass production of contraceptives could arguably benefit Africa, but has arguably harmed the West"

    IF it has harmed the West, isn't it rational to think that it will cause the same "harm" to Africa, and that therefore, in our rush to solve one problem (Aids), we will invariably create another.

    Perhaps we should think of better ways to solve that problem, than a way which, our experience in the West tells us, will inevitably give rise to another.

  • Comment number 22.

    I'm actually still ambivalent on contraception.

    On the one hand, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong in principle with enjoying sex for its own sake.

    On the other, I can fully understand, and even see in society, that a by-product of the wide availability of contraception is a cheapening of sexual relations.

    And, if we do care about the morality of sexual monogamy (I understand that some of you don't care, but that's another argument), then surely natural contraception has healthier implications for a monogamous couple.

    What I mean is that it seems to me a perfectly healthy view of sexuality that, though good in itself, may also lead to procreation, sometimes purposesly, and sometimes as quite a surprise.

    In the context of commited and monogamous relationships I think the natural possibility of procreation, even if unplanned, is a good thing. On the other hand, the natural and rational need for family planning can be adequately observed by entirely natural methods, without any of the moral by-products.

    I think it is undeniable that freely available mechanistic and "synthetic" (in the bad, plastic sense) contraception has the effect of cheapening sexuality, and is analogous to a hypothetical universal decision to divorce sexual pleasure from love, and for each of us to be content with plastic sex toys.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi RJB

    I can't think of any biblical refs to contraception.

    If you want a theocratic viewpoint on STDs you could go back to the levitical views (not penalities) on promiscuity in general.

    BTW I dont see myself as from the reformed tradition, for me that is too limiting.

    Can anyone here cite a reference to Catholics and Protestants in the bible??

    I prefer to look back directly to scripture while aspiring to be aware of the impact that the full spectrum of historical theology may have had on my reading of it. (This is the antithesis of fundamentalism fyi).

    I dont have a problem with condoms being distributed widely in Africa per se, but I think the Pope's actions have been constructive in that he has put onto the agenda the relatedness of faith, promiscuity and health.

    Lifelong monogamy in a marrige per se is an absolute firewall against all STDs.

    RJB's question seems to carry the assumption that the church should be deciding and imposing state health policy on idealistic grounds. That seems like theocracy (or at least an attitude in that direction) which to me is not biblical.

    But we have to accept that many people do not, will not and/or cannot hold to these values in Africa, for many reasons.

    I dont see any conflict in principle in the state distributing condoms AND preaching the widespread health benefits of monogamy.

    Then churches can reinforce the message of the risks of promiscuity and God's better way of lifelong monogamy. Perhaps practical steps might need to be advocated where women have little control over whether condoms are used or not?????

    Render unto Caesar what is Caeser's and unto God what is God's???

    This acknowledges the distinct roles of secular Government and believers, IMHO.

    I dont see that the NT assumes that Christians legislate over the heads of pagans but rather that disciples should be salt, persuade and vote in support or arguments as to why God's guidance for Christians is also beneficial for society at large.


    PS *Almost* sounds like you want to start a sectarian Prod-Catholic debate???


    All I will say is that I dont think anyone can make a serious argument that active membership of any religious organisation is in itself in harmony with a NT view of discipleship.

    I reckon by that standard the Pharisees, Saducees etc would have been on much better terms with Christ!

    "I am the way the truth and the life".

    The emphasis there is on a real relationship with the risen, real person of Christ.

  • Comment number 24.

    ps sorry RJB I realise that Post script *could* sound patronising to you, but I expect/hope you probably wont disagree with me on much/most of what I said.

  • Comment number 25.

    Contra some of Brian's misconceptions about Aquinas and Natural Law Theory in general (sorry Brian)

    (i) Aquinas' moral arguments never run from "natural" to "therefore reasonableand right, "
    but always from "reasonable and right" to "therefore natural." He does not endorse "whatever is is right" or anything remotely like that. This follows from Aquinas' belief that humans have a rational nature, and that nature has a rational author.

    (ii) Has Aquinas a problem with sexual pleasure? Nope.

    "As hunger makes us interested in eating, so *divine providence* has attached pleasure to marital intercourse to interest us in engaging in generative types of act"

    In Summa Theologicae I
    q. 98 a. 2 ad 3: "in the state of innocence [before the Fall ] there would have been nothing of
    this kind [the physical pleasure of sex] which would nothave been moderated by reason – NOT THAT THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN LESS OF THESE PLEASURES OF THE SENSES, as some people claim. Indeed, the sensory pleasure would have been greater, in proportion to the greater purity of human nature and the greater sensitivity of human bodies [before the Fall]. Rather desire, being regulated by reason, would not have pursued this sort of pleasure in such di sordered ways , and would not have clung to
    pleasure immoderately. And when I say "immoderately" I mean unreasonably. For those who consume food "with moderation" do not have less pleasure in eating than gluttons do; it's just that their desire is less fixated on that sort of pleasure."

    Given that we are now using sex to sell vegetarianism, and expect Big Brother contestants to score votes by 'doing it' live, I think we can grasp what it means for humans to have an unhealthy fixation on the pleasures of sex.

    But the point is that pleasure in sex was God's idea, and that it was not a part of sex tacked on post-fall to keep us faithful.

    (iii) Aquinas did argue that sex "for the sake only of pleasure, and without any interest in a marital good" was wrong. And what does it mean to Aquinas to have pleasure as one's exclusive motive? And in relation to intercourse between spouses, that means not really caring about the sexual partner - you would be motivated to have sex in such a way that *any* willing sexual partner. The other person, as a person, disappears from view. Sex becomes dehumanised.

    iv) Pursuing orgasmic pleasure is a good thing in marriage - it is literally "an act of justice" for marriage partners to seek to give it to one another (his "Disputation with Malo" for example).

    In general

    "part of the fullness of the morally good is that one is moved to the good not only by one's will but also by one's sense appetites, one's flesh" ST


    "it is natural to us as rational animals that our power of desiring be drawn towards what is sensually enjoyable in line with reason". Malo

    So Aquinas had no problem with bodily pleasure. He did have a problem with an excessive hedonistic delight in bodily pleasure. So do most folk - Aquinas spelled out his objections to such a lifestyle in detail. I think his objections focus too much on our rationality, but there is more than a little wisdom in what he says, and most agree with the conclusion.

    v) Aquinas also argued, in his supplementum to "Summa Theologicae" that sex *merely* for reproductive purposes was wrong, even in marriage. What is important to Aquinas is the "fides" (trust & faithfulness) that completes the one flesh relationship. Without that every sexual act is non-marital, and therefore imperfect.

    It is easy to caricature Aquinas, but a little detailed reading - only a little - reveals a much more subtle and nuanced ethical thinker than secularists would like.


  • Comment number 26.

    thanks Graham, nice set of quotations there.

    I must admit that sex is one of the areas of theology in which I have least interest.

    But it seems to me that, given all of that, Aquinas would probably agree with the Pope...or does that mean that the Pope agrees with Aquinas.

    incidentally, it should also be borne in mind that there is quite a strong tendency against thomism remaining in catholic thinking. I think that in recent years it's often assumed that Aquinas is the "philosopher of catholic doctrine", and it is true that he has become far more influential during the last century....

    but there does remain a large body of catholic thought that takes a more platonist/augustinian/scotist view...until the last century, Cajetan was far more influential than Aquinas, for example

    That's just an aside though, and of no real relevance to this argument...I just thought I might as well bring it up.

  • Comment number 27.

    Nah, not trying to start prot/cath sectarian debate, just seeking knowledge and understanding. And on that point, thanks to everyone on this thread for their contrinutions. I am obviously well aware of the catholic ethos, for want of a better word, but I've found a lot of the comments on here really informative and helpful. (and hopeful)

    Regarding you assuming that I would be for the church imposing state health policy on idealistic grounds, you must be confusing me with someone else. Keep the church and state seperate!! If the Pope or the Queen or indeed The Dali Lama wish to express an opinion on the way my government behave, fine by me. If they wish to begin imposing their beliefs on the society to which I belong, they may be risking a well deserved face full of green (or blue) custard, thrown by me. Keep them away, I say.

    I think I could find a very pertinent quote from the Bible about Catholics and Protestants. "There must be no - I am for Peter, I am for Paul - amongst you." (Or words to that effect.)

    I am now at the stage in my life (46) where I can look back at some of the things I tried to effect in priesthood. There were successes and failures. One failure was trying to bring protestant and catholic people together meaningfully (not these dreadful 'token' ecumenical services where ecumenism = you come to us-ism), always held in a freezing church and relegated to a Tuesday night.

    Lets do it on a Sunday, I said!! Lets join eachother for eachothers' worship.

    There was a huge feeling of getting together for Sunday worship, one week in the Catholic Church, the next in the Kirk. Before we had even begun to move in that direction, the dogmatists and bigots moved in and found every excuse under the sun to demolish it.

    People started voting with their feet and doing it themselves (knowing that they had the full support of the minister and the priest.)
    The people who fought it, to their eternal shame, were church leaders.

  • Comment number 28.

    Thanks RJB

    I have to be straight, I just dont get excited about the idea of two or more monoliths coming together for forced ecumenical meetings either.

    But I would feel pretty comfortable meeting with Catholics were first and foremost genuine disciplines of Christ ie I would then be meeting other disciples and not embracing an institution, if you see what I mean.

    In my limited experience, I have found most, but not all, of these people seemed to have similar experiences to you and shipped out altogether.



  • Comment number 29.

    finally for today RJB

    just want to clarify - for me "the church" is most certainly not a collection of crusty organisations hundreds of years old.

    To me that is completely irrelevant.

    The NT view is that the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, grow together and the farmer judges who are his.

    To me the true Bride of Christ is the faithful disciples in whatever situation they find themselves around the world.

    Religious banners are irrelevant.

    I spoke to a missionary this week who knows a muslim man in Egypt who is a secret believer and must visit the mosque regularly to keep from suspicion. He does not have a weekly church to attend. But I reckon he is most certainly a member of the Bride of Christ.


  • Comment number 30.

    Yip, OT, worship the father in spirit and in truth!

  • Comment number 31.

    also RJB

    was thinking... want to be up front... I am sceptical about church bureaucracies...in direct proportion to the depth of the hierachy!

    IMHO the bigger the hierarchy and more elaborate the ceremonies... the more Christ becomes obscured.

    Dog collars....special religious titles...infantbaptism....hierarchy of revered "saints".....the conquering of the laity (you cant understand the bible without our special leadership)....special inductions into membership for children...religious costumes....lusciously decorated buildings....special religious language which alienates the laity...

    To me these things are totally alien to the church in acts, whether in Protestant or Catholic churches.

    But the key issue is, do they cloud Christ out of the mind of the worshipper? In many many cases I have no doubt they do, leading many people to a feeling of false security in membership and attendance of a religious organisation.

    That is not for a second to criticise the laity, but the systems they may be confused by.


  • Comment number 32.

    OT - just a query - would that "special religious language which alienates the laity" include the KJV version of the Bible?

    I confess an interest, I am rather partial to the KJV myself because of its beauty and, as Keats said "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"...

  • Comment number 33.

    Hang on...

    Jennifer Connelly is TRUE? What on earth does that mean?

  • Comment number 34.

    Yeah - I checked on Wiki - there's an article on her so she's true enough. May McFetteridge, however, is only a figment of the imagination...

  • Comment number 35.

    Hi Portwyne

    I am talking about special words and phrases invented by religious institutions which may be and are used to exclude, confuse and control the laity.

    You know the way many professionals like to use such language to protect their interests.

    But the NT talks about the priesthood of all believers and we are to be on our guard against wolves not sparing the flock, and nicolaitans (conquerers of the laity) lording it over others etc etc.

    Dont think KJV falls into that category exactly but that probably depends on how it is used and with whom.

    Big fan myself but wouldnt impose it on non-like minded people. big turn off for some.


  • Comment number 36.


    You had to wiki Jennifer? Shame on you!

    In any case, you're going to have to do better than that. What do you take "truth" to mean? And what do you take "beauty" to mean?

    Couple of nice easy questions there. But we haven't discussed any big issues (Theism/Atheism) here for a while. Might be worth a decent natter on those two.


  • Comment number 37.


    Not only did I have to wiki Jenny Connelly, but even having done that I still have no idea who she is. Her dad's name isn't Sean by any chance is it? Has she anything to do with the pope?


  • Comment number 38.

    Hi Graham - sorry for the brevity and insubstantial nature of my previous response, I will attempt to take up the cudgels with greater intent today.

    First, however, I must report a judgement and that not unrelated to the use of religious argot: OT and I have previously discussed creeping evangelicalism in the CoI and last evening I had a rare conversation with one of my cousins in the course of which he mentioned that he and his wife had been "blessed" by some event in their lives - it took every ounce of sang froid I possess not to do the whole recoiling in horror thing! It's even got into my own family!!

    To your question. On one level Keats' statement is simply a truism: he defines 'beauty' as 'truth': what is not true cannot, in his understanding, be beautiful but what is true will be beautiful. I would contend that this is a superficial understanding of the poet's message and that the implications of his contention are to be felt rather than understood. It has thus been an exceedingly useful introduction to the differences in our approaches to the big subjects which often exercise the W&T community.

    You asked the question in post # 33 "what does this mean?" - you sought comprehension, essentially you are an intellectual. I, in contrast, am visceral. I always ask how does something make me feel; I look for resonance rather than reason and when I argue I embrace the emotive.

    Which brings me neatly to Aquinas - now there's a name I cannot hear without reaching for the sick bag. Surely there is no more perfect exemplification of a life wasted in sterile self-indulgence while wearing the mask of piety than that of the Angelic Doctor?

    Aquinas' nuanced approach to human sexual desire, like that of many Christians who think it is possible to "cheapen" the sexual act, displays an unwillingness to accept the reality of the human condition. Copulation, like ingestion and evacuation, ties us humans in the most incontrovertible way to our animal origins and expresses to the full our essentially animal natures.

    Bloodhound Gang have a much more perceptive view of what sex means to humanity than Aquinas. They say: "You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals
    So let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel" and they contend that what distinguishes human behaviour from that of other animals is the practical inventiveness with which we embellish the activity.

    The Church historically (and many Christians still today) make the error of creating an inextricable link between sex and love when there is no necessary connection. Sex is an activity we are biologically programmed to require and enjoy, so long as there is the informed meaningful consent of all involved parties there is simply no moral issue and nothing which should inhibit Christians from enjoying their animal heritage to the fullest.

    I am not sure how qualified I am to debate Theism/Atheism seeing I consider myself an exponent of neither, however, I will do my best to propound in any forth-coming exchange that coalescence of "Post-Modernist, Liberal Anglo- Catholic" ideas from which fundamentalists will undoubtedly seek deliverance (your post # 7).

  • Comment number 39.

    She was the girl in "Labyrinth" & "Dark City" (and the wife in "A Beautiful Mind" which is an overrated piece of pap).

    She has studied at Yale and Stanford, and is interested in Physics and Philosophy. Which may explain her interest in appearing in "Dark City", an unexpected cult hit (and a very compelling film - directed by Alex Proyas, who is capturing attention with "Knowing" at the moment.)


  • Comment number 40.


    Luther would have agreed with that view of sexuality. ("twice a week, 104 a year, gives man and wife, nothing to fear".) Sex is just another appetite that needs to be sated, but as with nay other appetite overindulgence can lead to selfishness.
    I would say that I'm too much of a "Romantic" (in CS Lewis' use of the term) to take Luther's view over Aquinas'. Rather than being "intellectualist" or "visceral", I'd say that reason and emotion need to work together in "imagination". I think "imagination" can (and often does) lead us to the truth (propositions that correspond with reality). That is, imagination need not only result in fantasy. Imagination forms questions and searches for answers. Logic would be somewhat empty without imagination - but imagination would be blind without logic.


  • Comment number 41.

    Gosh Graham - we're in broad agreement... AND I learned something new - would never have thought Luther would have been so abstemious!

  • Comment number 42.


    I feel I should offer my condolences to you in respect of your affliction with evangelicalism; I was one, or am one (of sorts), I'm certainly surrounded with this particular 'ism' and have been all my life.

    If it is of any consolation I can say that while saturated in this sub-culture I have yet to become proficient in my use of the lingo. It's not that I don't understand it, it just that I can't bring myself to use it.

    Take 'blessed' for example (I have an almost overwhelming sense that I should emphasize the last 'e'). In my experience such 'blessing'/'blessedness' usually corresponds to a pleasant happenstance in one's life rather than being relatable to the opening thoughts of Matthew chapter 5.

  • Comment number 43.

    In The Lancet, Early Online Publication, 20 March 2009, AIDS: lessons learnt and myths dispelled, P. Piot, M. Kazatchkine, M. Dybul & J. Lob-Levyt (doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)60321-4 ), the authors clearly pointed out that (a) prevention programs are effective against HIV infections and (b) changes in sexual behavior have led to decreases in the number of new HIV infections. They concluded that efforts to change behavior do work demonstrably. They also showed that data from western Europe suggested that complacency about AIDS and the sense that the HIV condition is less dangerous has made sustained behavioral changes more challenging. They wrote: "the number of new HIV diagnoses in men who have sex with men doubled in Germany between 2002 and 2006, and increased by more than three-quarters in Switzerland."

    It is indisputable that abstinence and fidelity in marriage are the surest means to arrest the spread of AIDS. Unfortunately, the advocates of condom use knowingly or otherwise suggest that otherwise dangerous sexual behavior is acceptable as long a condom is used. This has the effect of justifying the actions of an HIV positive individual who endangers the health and well being of others. This erodes ethical behavior; encourages multiple sexual partners and will lead to more HIV infections as in the case of homosexuals in Germany and Switzerland cited in the paragraph above, who would have had the option to use condoms if they wanted.

    The condom use may give a false sense of security and could promote dangerous sexual behavior. This false sense of security will encourage the idea that otherwise callous behavior of endangering others is acceptable if done with condoms. Thus, even if condom use is often effective in preventing infection, a very small rate of failure could have a huge impact in spreading HIV gradually to more people. Moreover, in the context promiscuous and licentious living, there are more occasions to choose not to use condoms, once in a while. This could happen easily when one is drunk or emotionally disturbed, with disastrous consequences.

    However, what pope is encouraging is abstinence and faithfulness in marriage, which are morally noble and socially healthy and safe. This encourages true love, moral living, individual responsibility and health of mind, body and family. It is absolutely shameful that someone should use The Lancet to persecute the pope who is promoting behavior that is healthy and safe for the individual and the society. If the author was just ignorant, we could forgive him. However, it is pathetic, if he is doing this to promote promiscuity and licentiousness, at the risk of endangering the lives of millions of people who may be infected if their lives are to be protected only by condoms and not by healthy behavior.

  • Comment number 44.

    This Pope lacks grace, intelligence, common sense, dignity, and a grasp on reality. It outrages me that the UK is planning to waste taxpayers' money entertaining this foolish man and his entourage of toadies. I urge everyoneto sign my petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/stopthepope?e

  • Comment number 45.

    Perhaps you'd like to sign my petition;



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