Square Zero

Saying “No” with Your Bodies

Posted by Eric (May 1, 2006 at 11:13 am)

There’s one more issue that I’ve got to address in Sam and Bethany Torode’s “Open Letter” repudiating the views articulated in their 2002 book, Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception. That isn’t to say this will be my last word on the broader issues involved, but at least for now it’s my last response to the specific points raised in the “Open Letter.”

The statement I want to address here is this:

We also see honest congruity with the language of the body by saying “no” to conception with our bodies (via barrier methods or sensual massage) when our minds and hearts are also saying “no” to conception.

I’ve already commented more generally on the above in my first post on this business, but I want to focus now on the idea that a couple is saying “no” to conception with their bodies when they use a condom or other barrier method of contraception.

First, I think it needs to be said that nobody knows whether Sam and Bethany Torode are actually using contraception. I think their “Open Letter” is quite ambiguous about that and it’s entirely possible that they are not. It may simply be that, finding NFP very difficult at this time, they no longer feel they can justly demand that others must practice NFP too. I hope that’s the case—I pray that it is. (Note: I have edited my previous posts on the subject to reflect this ambiguity and this hope.)

Language of the Body vs. Language of the Condom

The simple truth is that a couple using a condom is not saying no “with their bodies”—they are saying “no” with a condom. It’s the condom, and it alone, that makes visible the invisible intention to say no to conception. Everything their bodies are doing—whatever their interior disposition towards conception might be—is saying “yes” to conception.

It is the condom that says “no” And the fact that a couple would have to resort to this manufactured piece of latex to express on their behalf the intention to avoid conceptions says everything you need to know about how contraception mars the language of the body. The condom claps its gloved hand over the body’s yes and squeeks out its own little rubbery no.

Such a couple—the Torodes or anybody—who resorts to a condom to say “no” on behalf of the body is tacitly admitting that the body is inadequate to say no while engaged in the one flesh union of marital intercourse. And they’re right: the body can’t say “no” and “yes” at the same time.

What’s more, they are confessing, whether they know it or not, a conviction that their bodies are inadequate. They are in effect accusing God of having provided them with bodies so “marred by sin,” in the Torodes’ phrase, that they lack all that is necessary to express the gift of self that is marital love. Far from rejecting a negative view of the body as the Torodes suppose, the embrace of contraception is nothing less than an endorsement of that negative view.
Of course, the body as created by God and redeemed by Christ lacks nothing for expressing the fullest possible message of love. As we know, their are times in a couple’s life when they must say, not so much “no” but “not now,” to another child—when the most loving thing for them to do is to carefully postpone pregnancy.

Say It Like You Mean It

God in his mercy and kindness has made it possible for couples to express that statement of love through their bodies by taking on the sacrifice of periodic abstinence. That sacrifice is, moreover, a most appropriate way for a couple to express the demands of true love in their marriage at a point when another child would be too great a burden for them. It allows them to experience in the flesh the true meaning of that “no”—and to be under no illusions as to how serious a “no” it really is.

Of course, we also know that there is no way for a couple to really say “no” definitively short of total abstinence. Both the contracepting couple and the couple practicing NFP may find that God answers their “not now” with a “yes, now.” How surprise pregnancy illuminates the differences between contraception and NFP will be the subject of a future post.

Meanwhile: Teresa at TheCrockery has been blogging insightfully on the Torode Affair. Worth a look.

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2 Responses to “Saying “No” with Your Bodies”

  1. Guest says:

    This is the most logical way I’ve heard this put. Only thing is I disagree that it is always wrong to say “no” to children, but then again I’m not Catholic. Otherwise good. Most pieces that try to explain this claim that the folks involved have weak marriages, or don’t value life at all. You did it without putting anyone down.

    Comment posted May 5th, 2006 at 1:47 pm
  2. Eric says:

    Guest says: This is the most logical way I’ve heard this put. Only thing is I disagree that it is always wrong to say “no” to children . . .”

    That really depends on what you mean by “no.” If your “no” is so absolute that you would even go so far as to abort a baby that was conceived when you were trying to avoid pregnancy, that’s wrong.

    If your “no” isn’t that absolute, then probably you mean something more along the lines of “not now, please.” Remember that it isn’t just the “potential” child you’re saying “no” to—it’s God. Since His providence can upset our plans and schemes, we ought to be careful saying “no” to him.

    Comment posted May 5th, 2006 at 2:30 pm