More From Dr. Popcak

Did you know it was "NFP Week"?  I certainly did not, until I was informed of it by our old buddy Dr. Popcak.  No surprise, he is a big proponent of NFP Week, and has been writing a series of posts on in celebration of this date on the calendar.  I would like to talk about yesterday's post, but before I do, a couple of notes from the Monday post.  First, I was pleased to see that Dr. Popcak acknowledges that approximately one out of every fifty Catholics are actually using NFP (i.e. 2%).  I've mentioned the same statistic before, but I am not sure people truly understand what 2% of the female population actually means.  For example, that's approximately the same percentage of the overall population of women who are U.S. military veterans.  Or, in another direction, it is the percentage of British women who prefer their man to wear a Speedo at the beach.  It is a very, very small number of people.  Nice to see a bit of reality creeping into the NFP discussion.

Second, he is 2-for-2 in the series in ending his posts suggesting you buy Holy Sex!  I could say a number of things, but I think I'll let the Wu Tang Clan say it for me.


Anyway, on to the yesterday's post.

The specific angle Popcak takes in this post is to say that NFP is not a thing.  Which immediately leads to the question of "what is it"?, which Popcak answers for us by saying NFP "is simply information that allows couples to communicate and pray about how marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will."  Information is of course a "thing," but that's my college philosophy classes speaking.  The real problem with that statement is that it is not true, or at least misleading in an important sense.  If NFP were simply "information," then it would allow for a multiplicity of possible conclusions to be drawn from that information.  But, of course, certain conclusions are beyond the pale--there is no room in the NFP system for the prayerful conclusion that God's will for a couple is that they use artificial birth control.  That conclusion is excluded ex ante.  So, what Popcak really means is that NFP "is simply information that allows couples to communicate and pray about how marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will, so long as we define 'God's will' beforehand to exclude any use of artificial birth control."

I know that Popcak, and others in the Theology of the Body crowd, think they are being very clever by redefining the question of NFP to be about communication, as opposed to being about not using birth control.  But it is really the same exercise that high school debaters who think they are smarter than they actually are do routinely, and it is equally tiresome.  For example, Popcak scolds priests and dioceses who don't require NFP courses as part of marriage prep as really saying "[w]e don’t require our couples to learn to communicate and pray together about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness."  This linkage makes sense only to the extent you accept the idea that, if you don't use NFP, then you are by definition not "communicat[ing] and pray[ing] together about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness."  That's not an argument for NFP, but a restatement of the view that NFP is required because it is required.  You cannot argue around the basic fact that all of this NFP business is fiat on the part of the Church.

It becomes even more ridiculous when he talks directly about the objection that NFP is "too hard."  "Well," he says "communication is hard."  Of course communication is hard, but that's beside the point.  Communication is hard for all couples, regardless of what birth control method they are using.  NFP is hard for an entirely different reason.  It is hard because it is hard to figure out the signs well enough to be confident that you aren't going to get pregnant if you have sex tonight.  It is hard because it requires prolonged celibate periods for a large percentage of couples.  That's why people say NFP is hard, not because you have to communicate.  Again, don't take my word for it--take it from the couples practicing NFP themselves.

I must say, my favorite sentence in the whole piece, and perhaps in everything I've read by him, is this one:

The sooner we, as a Church, can stop arguing about whether we should require couples to learn NFP, or whether couples should use NFP, the sooner we can dedicate our time, energy and resources to helping couples actually do the work of NFP; that is,  communicating and praying about how their marital intimacy can help them grow in holiness and receptivity to God’s will. 

In other words, "the sooner we stop arguing over whether we should push this gigantic boulder up this steep hill, the sooner we can get to the business of pushing the boulder up the hill."  The problem, Dr. Popcak, is that people don't think we need to push the boulder up the hill in the first place.  They are unpersuaded of the benefits of doing that as opposed to just leaving the boulder where it is, or rolling it downhill to some convenient spot.  Popcak's arguments don't really address why we should push the boulder up the hill; instead, he's talking about all the exercise you are going to get from pushing this enormous rock.  Maybe so, but you could get exercise in other ways.  If you ultimately don't see the point of pushing the boulder up the hill, then the exercise benefits are sort of beside the point.

Here's the bottom line.  Pope Paul in 1968 said "don't use birth control."  A vast majority of Catholics (98% in the U.S.) said "phooey on that" and went ahead and used birth control.  Theology of the Body and Dr. Popcak's work is an ever-more elaborate way to talk about anything other than the fact that the Church says "don't use birth control" and people say "phooey."  It is an endless dance, designed to avoid the real question.

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