Sunday, March 25, 2007

Children: gift or duty?

The Ochlophobist demonstrates again what the Sarabite has described as an "Orthodox ethos within the Catholic Church," though Ochlo may want to dispute that. All his points on contraception are perfectly consistent with Catholic teachings, yet correct for some of its modern excesses, preoccupations, and inconsistencies. One inconsistency he implicitly highlights is Catholicism's near-exclusive reliance on ethics, rules, and magisterial authority to promote the culture of life.
In exhorting couples to have more children, even just one more than they "wanted" to have, we should not stress duty. Orthodox couples (married in the Orthodox Church) did not make a vow to submit to and die for the other, even if the Church exhorted them to do so. Orthodox couples are not under contract to do anything, including breed. We should call them to do so out of love, out of joy, out of hope. We should remind them of the goodness of oil, wheat, wine, wonder, prayer, and household tables in which they are surrounded by children. We should give them every reason to think of children as blessing and not curse.

Moderns know that contracts kill, even as they use and frequently love them. Moderns, for the most part, also generally intuit that the sophistic metaphysical gymnastics of "natural law" (especially in the sense in which it is used by modern "conservatives") can be contorted to condemn them for almost any sexual act. Certain of the manualists would have us cutting holes in sheets. Augustine proposed one sexual position if one had to have sex (more about that later). Good grief, the last thing a Christian couple needs in the bedroom is another ethic or trite metaphysical parsing of every act which a couple intends for love. No, pastorally we do not need couples to sign on another dotted line and accept the contract of proper Christian family planning. We need Orthodox couples to love, and to love more. This Ochlophobist would be happy with just one more, silly as that may seem.
Catholics love to say that children are unmerited gifts from God, not a right, not ultimately a burden or even a duty, as if we were talking about property rights and contractual obligations. But ontologically, children subsist as gifts, a category that even the secular law recognizes as far less bound by rigid rules. And yet we too often speak of the stricter, more authoritarian ethical teachings and pronouncements and focus on the penalties for violating the Church's pro-life message. This is indeed an inconsistency that the Orthodox ethos avoids. Where the Catholic ethos maintains that duty is a necessary part of a consistent ethic life, the Orthodox ethos insists that duty just scratches the surface. Both are right. The Protestant meanwhile denies the existence of any institutionally-related duties that infringe upon the individual's liberty to decide for him/herself.