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Identity Crisis

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Written by Basil on 01/22/2004 9:03 PM. Filed under:

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Yesterday, while watching Law and Order — one of the few television shows I watch regularly — I saw a commercial for Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. The incidental music was “There She Goes,” and it sounded like the Sixpence None the Richer version. I initiallly reacted with shock: I couldn’t believe that a Christian band would ever let their music be used for a birth control pill ad. It took a few seconds for me to remember that most Protestants have forgotten the classical Christian prohibition on birth control, universal until the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s.

In addition to preventing ovulation, Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo also “changes the lining of the uterus to reduce the likelihood of implantation” in case ovulation occurs and an egg is fertilized. This makes it a “morning after” pill. It shares this trait with nearly every contraceptive drug designed to prevent ovulation.

As we remember the tragic decision made 31 years ago, it is important to remember that induced abortions are not the only sins we are committing against our children.

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42 Responses to “Identity Crisis”

  1. pete Says:

    some women take birth control pills for other reasons–to help with the pain of endometriosis or other menstrual problems, for example. i have known several women who experience crippling pain every month due to endometriosis if they don’t take some form of birth control pill. perhaps total removal of the uterus would “solve” that problem, but if any of them want to have children eventually, it’s not a “solution.”

  2. pete Says:

    theological point now: have Protestants “forgotten” the classical Christian prohibition on birth control? i think it more likely that Protestants disagree with it–forgetting seems a much more passive experience. Protestants also typically don’t believe that Christ’s body is physically existent in the Eucharist, but that’s clearly not a case of “forgetting.”

  3. basil Says:

    Read the link — it was a universal belief, regardless of confession, until the 1930’s.

  4. basil Says:

    As for legitimate medical uses of the pill: We aren’t legalists.

  5. pete Says:

    i read the link. confession isn’t the point, but only meant as a comparison: Protestant belief on transubstantiation differs from the classical view because of an active movement away from the classical view, rather than a passive movement away that “forgetting” seems to imply. in the same way, i don’t know that you can call the movement toward birth control usage a process of “forgetting”–it seems more of an active process, in the same vein as moving toward “sola scriptura” isn’t “forgetting” the importance of church tradition.

    i’m not trying to pick a fight, honestly. i’m just trying to clarify. for that matter, your initial post leaves no room for such “legitimate medical use” of the pill but is only accusatory, which is what would lead me to the legalism conclusion.

    finally (to be extremely picky…sorry, i work for a library…it’s my job to be picky about such things), the web site you referenced is pretty poorly put together, as well as being rather lacking in citation for some pretty substantial claims (“All of this will soon damage the American economy. In two decades we will have an abundance of elderly in this country that our lowering birth rates are just not replacing,” or [my personal favorite] “If you don’t want to have kids it is as simple as not having intercourse at the times your wife is likely to conceive. God isn’t an idiot. He knows you can’t possible support 20 kids on $25,000 a year.” first: it’s not always that simple. my wife’s cousin and his wife teach NFP, and they have had 8 kids in spite of trying to follow it. second: of course God isn’t an idiot. but God also allows people to go through some pretty painful [not to mention expensive] stuff some times.)

  6. Karl Says:

    A little name dropping here, but I am friends with a girl who was Elizabeth Rohm’s college roommate. Small world…

  7. James Says:

    So, birth control is permitted in certain circumstances, but we should never sell a song to a drug company to be used in a birth control pill commercial? Seems sort of like a Jew selling all his non-Kosher food items to his gentile neighbor the night before the beginning of Passover and then re-buying them when it’s over.

  8. pete Says:

    James, i’m missing the analogy here…sorry…

  9. basil Says:

    First, we need to distinguish an Orthodox position on birth control, per se, as elucidated by Orthodox bishops in synod, and the ethical legitimacy of particular forms of birth control.

    This summary by Fr. Thomas Hopko gives a simple explanation of the Orthodox position on birth control. Statements from the Synod of the OCA are similar, if more complete.

    However, a pharmaceutical, designed to improve the possibility that a fertilized egg will be spontaneously aborted, cannot be condoned carte blanche. The fact that it has other, possibly beneficial uses, places it in a shadowland that means each spiritual father will have a slightly different position on its use.

    Your mileage may vary.

  10. pete Says:

    you know, another point (which my wife made to me when i was discussing this issue) is that not all forms of oral contraceptives have the same effect–by raising the “i’m pregnant” hormones in the body and various other forms of magical (outside the realm of my understanding) things, they “trick” the body into “believing” that it is pregnant, which causes no eggs to be released (as would happen if the woman actually was pregnant.) what about this sort of a product is problematic?

  11. basil Says:

    Well, that is certainly less repugnant than the pharmaceutical linked above.

    The “spiritual basis of marriage clearly transcends, without suppressing, the fleshly union of the bodies. Fleshly relations when separated from spiritual ones are depraved; they must be woven into the pure and total love between a man and a woman united in marriage.” (Encyclical on Marriage) The marriage service recites a litany of old covenant marriages, and it reveals that children are always blessings from God.

    In reading the writings of the holy Synod linked above, I have not been able to find strong statements on contraception, which I thought I had read before. Probably my own Roman background blinded me in this regard; I likely eisegeted my own issues into the texts.

    Besides, I’m not married, and I am no one’s priest. This subject is really none of my business.

    The most recent writing from the Synod says this: “Married couples may express their love in sexual union without always intending the conception of a child, but only those means of controlling conception within marriage are acceptable which do not harm a fetus already conceived.” (Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life; Tenth All-American Council, July 1992)

  12. James Says:

    Man, I’m already irritable today and I said something that I think was perfectly obvious and you tell me you don’t get it. Bah! I was questioning whether Orthodox Christians (or anyone for that matter) should have the belief that we can use birth control in certain circumstances, privately, but then condemn it in our public speech.

  13. basil Says:

    James, in the Orthodox Church there is always going to be a range of options between the strict practice, what is allowable for the weakness of our nature, and what is not allowable. For example, this same range exists with regard to marriage. We have no problem proclaiming that divorce is undeniably wrong, and yet it is allowed because of the weakness of our nature. Second marriages are frowned upon — and disallowed for the clergy, since they are held to the highest standard of purity — yet, they are allowed to the laity for the weakness of our nature. Third marriages are sometimes permitted, but fourth marriages are forbidden. This is of course because marriage is a relationship that is eternal, extending beyond the realm of death. We also see this in fasting. I cannot currently think of other examples.

  14. pete Says:

    how is marriage “eternal, extending beyond the realm of death”? Jesus’ answer to the sadducees suggests that marriage is nonexistent beyond the grave: Matthew 22:30. the only group i know of that actively disagrees with this position is the Latter-Day Saints.

  15. Bishop Says:

    “Jesus’ answer to the sadducees suggests that marriage is nonexistent beyond the grave”

    This is not the interpretation of that passage that the Church throughout time has used. Jesus often said things to the pharisees and sadducees that end up being interpreted as, “You guys just don’t get it and won’t so dont even try.” (paraphrase by me 😀 )

    This is where we need to look to Tradition and see how passages like this have been interpreted by the Church throughout the centuries.

    I am reading a book right now called Preserve Them, O Lord by Fr. John Mack. It talks directly to the issue of the eternity of marriage. (I don’t have it with me right now or I would pull a quote.)

  16. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    And I throw my hat into the ring . . .

    *the audience groans*

    Seems to me that there is a whole lot of ‘assuming’ going on here.

    First of all, ‘Sixpence’ didn’t write the original song.

    Second, even if it was ‘Sixpence’s’ version of the song, it doesn’t matter, because they don’t own the rights to it, the WB record label does.

    Third, I think we all agree that abortion is wrong. As such, as soon as an egg becomes fertilized, a new life is created and to kill that life, in whatever stage of development, would be murder.

    Fourth, use of an oral contraceptive that decreases the liklihood of pregnancy is, in my opinion, perfectly legitimate, so long as it doesn’t also serve as a ‘morning after’ pill.

    Fifth, as such, use of such a pill to kill cells that COULD be used in the creation of a human being is no different than taking an individual blood cell and eradicating it. There was no life there by itself. It never had any potential to become life. Similarly, neither do egg nor sperm have the ability to spontaneously manifest life, unless brought together. By themselves, they are inert.

    Sixth, if we want to take the argument into the realm of ‘What Would Jesus Do’ (which I only bring up, because it seems that this is where the discussion is going), then I think that we’re ultimately going to fail, because in order to really come to a conclusion, then wouldn’t it be prudent to understand how Eve’s anatomy functioned? After all, it was only after the ‘Fall’ that she was cursed with the pain of childbirth.

    Seventh, forms of contraception have been around since . . . well forever. While that, in and of itself, doesn’t make it right or wrong, it’s safe to assume that Christ was aware of the various forms (I mention this just as an aside).

    Lastly, I think it’s dangerous to say that every time a husband and wife engage in physical intimacy, they should be fully aware and be willing to accept the consequences.

    While that is true and a certain amount of responsibility does need to be taken – especially in our day and age – to say something like that borders dangerously close to negating the other side of sexual intimacy.

    At the same time, the argument could be made that the wheel should have never been made, because we were not born with wheels on our feet and, as such, we should only use ourselves as means of mobility . . . the arguments could go on and on, and quite frankly, are pointless.

    To ask, ‘Is it right or wrong’ is the wrong question. Instead, it should be, ‘Does God even care?’ I mean, to take another life, yes, that is wrong. But so long as we’re honoring God by keeping our sexual activities within marriage and respecting our bodies, which also honors him, then where’s the issue?

  17. pete Says:

    i’d actually be interested in hearing/reading what Tradition teaches on the subject of the eternality of marriage, as this is the first i’ve heard any mention of it outside of the Latter-Day Saints.

  18. basil Says:

    Mr. HG, you’re doing a lot of pontificating without checking out what other Christians have believed about the matter. I’m not sure why it should matter to me, except that you’re just telling me what you believe. Well, that’s cool for you, I guess. There is certainly nothing normative about it, though.

    You are correct about contraception having been around since the earliest days — the earliest is the contraception of Onan, which Scripture specifically frowns upon. Subsequent to this earliest mention of contraception in Scripture, the consensus of Christians is that it continues to be inconsistent with the intent of sexuality as created by God. This consensus is universal, as I said earlier, even in Protestant groups, up until the middle of the last century. That’s a lot of consensus, and it takes more than, “I happen to like my own opinion better,” to overturn such a consensus.

  19. basil Says:

    Contraception: Early Church Teaching, though unfortunately skewed toward Rome, makes copius use of patristic citations to show the view of contraception in the patristic consensus. Also, note well the revisions of The Orthodox Way at the bottom of the page!

  20. basil Says:

    Pete, with regard to patristic writing on the eternal character of marriage, Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko’s catechism gives a contemporary Orthodox summary of Orthodox teaching on marriage. Also, Protopresbyter John Meyendorff’s Byzantine Theology contains a discussion of marriage in Byzantine thought. This is primarily a characteristic of Eastern theology; it is almost absent in Western thought from the beginning. This is possibly because Western thought has tended more toward Antiochian exegesis than Alexandrian exegesis, which continued to be nourished in Eastern monasticism.

  21. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Oh . . . you’re right . . . I forgot.

    Silly me.

  22. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:


    Basil, Basil, Basil . . .

    Dude, I really do feel sorry for you.

  23. pete Says:


    it seems that a case could be made (and has been made before) that Onan’s guilt lies in his unwillingness to accept the full responsibility of his levirate duties to his dead brother (which was codified as law in Deuteronomy 25:56, although was almost certainly in wide practice in the Ancient Near East prior to that time) or for simply disobeying his father’s directive–the death penalty for disobedient children was widely practiced in the Ancient Near East. under the code of levirate marriage, the child which was the result of the union of Onan and his dead brother’s wife would not be considered Onan’s, but his dead brother’s. Onan’s refusal to fulfill his levirate responsibility and his father’s directive could easily be understood as stemming from an unwillingness to surrender children that would otherwise be rightfully his. were Onan to have evaded his obligation to his dead brother by the Hebrew custom of Halizah, he could have been “off the hook,” but he instead chose to enjoy the “benefits” without the responsibilities–an underlying choice that seems to have been the greater problem here.

  24. basil Says:

    Pete, absolutely. That passage also fits into a larger body of belief, so it depends on what total set of beliefs one brings to the text. We zip right back to determining our hermeneutic. You know what’s next, right? The Lerinian canon: universality, antiquity, and consent.

  25. basil Says:

    Mr. HG, if what I said was incorrect, you know how to correct me: Back it up.

  26. pete Says:

    “According to Christ, in order for the love of a man and woman to be that which God has: perfectly created it to be, it must be unique, indestructible, unending and divine. The Lord himself has not only given this teaching, but he also gives the power to fulfill it in the sacrament of Christian marriage in the Church.”
    from the Orthodox Teaching on Marriage, cited above by Basil

    what i’m having a hard time with in this discussion is this: Where exactly does the Lord give the teaching that marriage is unending? it would be one thing for you to say that the teaching comes from the Church, and by extension, from the Lord–in which case i would probably understand our differences in ecclesiology as partly to blame for our disparity of views.

  27. pete Says:

    see, whenever you (or anyone) make a statement like that, it’s like a poker game in which there’s one person with a million dollars who keeps raising every hand by a million dollars. nobody playing can cover that bet, so we all have to fold, and that person gets our money, even though nobody really won or lost.

    this isn’t the first time anyone is going to say this, but it may very well be the last time i do: we’re not going to agree on our hermeneutic, particularly with respect to authority, and regardless of our best intentions to have non-patronizing, non-accusatory dialogue, our negotiations eventually break down. perhaps this is due in part to the various stages we are each in within our traditions, our levels of spiritual maturity, or even the necessary drawbacks that written communication inherently has, but it keeps happening on just about every single issue we discuss.

  28. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    Actually, Basil . . . I’ve had this discussion before . . . as such, I won’t be baited into having an inane, pointless argument.

    Bottomline, we have different views on Christianity and what makes it important and viable.

    While you find it necessary to back everything up with countless literary texts and the incessant blathering of long-dead, pseudo-religo-philosophy, I choose to use common sense in my approach to Christianity.

    Whereas you attempt to catalogue and define every jot and tiddle, I’m comfortable enough in myself and my beliefs, to know that I will never know it all.

    ‘Pontificating’? No, sir . . . you have no right. Take a good look in the mirror.

    Although I will clarify one point . . . why do I feel sorry for you? Because . . . in how many weeks now . . . you’re going to get your butt handed to you.

    That’s satisfaction enough for me. 🙂

    (Enter Karl)

  29. pete Says:

    Mr. HG,
    There’s no need to be insulting about this. I have a hard time with these sorts of discussions, too, but your tone is hardly helpful.

  30. basil Says:

    Mr. HG, I ship out in less than one week. In point of fact, this is not the first time I have submitted to authority. Nor will it be the first time my butt will have been handed to me. I’m not sure I would be able to do it, either, if I hadn’t already done it on the spiritual plane. In fact, I’m doing it in part to further learn how to submit to authority. I will be a far better man for having learned to be appropriately submissive.

    I apologize if you think I have tried to “bait” you into supercilious gloating. I am merely trying to prod you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.

  31. Karl Thienes Says:

    (Enter Karl)??

    Nice try, Nick.

  32. James Says:

    A second marriage is frowned upon? Yes, now you’re getting personal. If God wills that I get married again I will and everyone can frown all they want. If God smiles on it that’s all that matters to me.

  33. Mr. Hibbity Gibbity Says:

    No, I wasn’t ‘trying’ anything.

    But I am aware that you do tend to ‘show up’ and ‘come to the rescue’ during discussions such as this one.

    Again, ‘trying’ isn’t the right word, more like ‘assuming’ you would show up, or even better, I was ‘waiting’ for you to jump into the mix.

    ‘Trying’? No, no. We’ve been down that road.

  34. basil Says:

    James, see my email to you privately. I was not getting personal in the least. That’s nearly a direct quote from Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko’s Q & A on the OCA website.

    And you need not take it personally, either. Your situation is unique, and you will have my blessing to do what is necessary for your salvation.

  35. James Says:

    In the context of what Fr. Thomas is saying it sounds very understandable, but to just say “the Orthodox Church frowns upon ________” without any context can be hurtful. I’m not asking you to change Church teaching, but I think there are better ways of saying it. If God wills me to marry again one day I will, but if God does not then I won’t. So, you’re right I shouldn’t take it personally and I shouldn’t even worry about this conversation. It’s difficult, though.

  36. James Says:

    For example Basil, I find Fr. John Matusiak’s response here, here and here much more helpful and pastoral.

  37. basil Says:

    James, I’m honored and humbled that you would put this sinner’s pontifications on a par with the Priest John Matusiak. Were I a priest, I might try to justify my own phrasing even more, but I can only take your comparison as a compliment.

  38. James Says:

    Oh Basil!

  39. sockmonk Says:

    I want to try to pick up an earlier part of this thread that I think is important, that seems to have been dropped. More specifically, a little education seems to be in order.

    Q: Why is there a moral problem with The Pill? Isn’t it just a way to avoid conception?

    A: The Pill is an effective means of avoiding pregnancy in part because it has not one but two ways that it works. The primary means is by “tricking” the woman’s body into thinking that it is already pregnant, so that no egg is released and therefore sperm and egg never meet. In this case there is no new human life to be ended. However, this alone does not account for the 99% or so effectiveness rate; every now and then an egg does get released anyway. When this happens, sperm and egg may indeed meet, and the tiny embryo would then get implanted in the uterine lining. The Pill will have caused the uterine lining to be much thinner than it would be normally, too thin to sustain the embryo. Consequently this backup mechanism works when the embryo dies.

    The ethical debate surrounds the question of when life begins. Does it begin at conception? When the embryo emplants itself in the uterine lining? At the third, sixth or ninth month of pregnancy? One year after birth and it’s certain that there are no defects?

    If you take the position that life begins at conception, as many opponents of abortion do, then you must admit that taking the Pill for the purpose of avoid pregnancy means you run the risk of terminating a pregnancy just hours or days after it starts, and probably never being aware of it. If you say that life begins with implantation in the uterine wall, it would seem that the new life could end soon after it begins. If you say life begins some time after that, well, join the rest of the pro-choice crowd, and be honest about it. Or find a reason to draw the line firmly at… wherever you do see the line.

    Hope this helps illuminate the issue.

  40. alana Says:

    I’d like to add that yes, the pill can be wonderful for women with PCO and such, and provide much relief from symptoms. I think if I were needing to take it, I’d pretend the pill were not a contraceptive, and use some back-up method for protection against pregnancy.

  41. name Says:

    Isn’t this song about shooting heroin?

  42. basil Says:

    Well, I guess it could be. It seems pretty vague. The lyrics are really pretty tame. The only reference that really hints at heroin usage is “Pulsing through my veins,” which could be interpreted literally or figuratively. I guess I would need to know more about the writer of the lyrics.