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Plumbline Author: Ethan Brue
Date: February 27, 2002
Topic: Natural Technology

Recently an article entitled “Make Love and Babies”1 appeared in Christianity Today discussing issues relating family planning for Christian married couples. Using the “cultural mandate” to argue their case, the authors present the Natural Family Planning (or NFP) method as the Biblical antidote to the individualism that characterizes our society’ s perspective on family planning. After reading the article I was troubled. Troubled not by the family planning method, but rather by the arguments used to defend it. The authors fail to recognize that their article was primarily about technology. To understand technology we must acknowledge the important TWO-fold character of the “cultural mandate”. God calls us to fill the earth, the authors certainly emphasize this, but in the same breath God bids us to care for the creation. The cultural mandate is about technology - the God-ordained human activity of shaping and forming the natural creation. This natural creation that we are called to care for includes our bodies, or more correctly stated, these bodies of ours that belong to God. Add to this incomplete view of the cultural mandate a failure to recognize how sin is woven through the entire good creation, and the result is philosophical confusion. Such confusion can rendered Christians completely unable to articulate a meaningful and much needed critique on contemporary issues ranging from genetic engineering to corporate farming methods. While I do not intend to argue for or against the Natural Family Planning method, I simply want to use this particular argument as an example of this philosophical confusion.

The authors use a three-part sales pitch to sell their technological product. First, in absence of a good definition for technology, they lay claim to the term “natural” and attempt to define it as “untouched”. Second, they equate the term “natural” with what God declares as “good”, claiming that NFP modifies our bodies the least and therefore is THE obedient birth control technique. Finally, they claim that all other contraceptives are rooted in the hedonism and individualism of our modern society.

In the promotion of their “natural” technology, the authors categorize all other methods of birth control as “artificial”. However, the term “natural” is ambiguous. Humans have never lived naturally, nor are created to live naturally, if natural is equated with untouched, “laissez-faire” living. I find it interesting that what the authors call “natural” is the early morning task of systematically charting daily basal temperatures, qualitatively analyzing bodily fluid production, and carefully measuring cervical coordinates. The couple will then use this scientific data to manipulate nature via systematic abstinence. Maybe I am an exception, but to me, greeting the dawn with a cold glass of orange juice or hot cup of coffee, seems a bit more “natural” than greeting the dawn with a scientific experiment. My point is, the advocates of NFP fail to see that according to their own “hands-off” definition of natural, their proposed family planning technique is heavily “artificial”.

The authors also argue for NFP by stating, “we ought to respect the integrity of our bodies, and to alter as little as possible the way they are intended to function.” As the authors see it, when God created, he created it “good” and it should be left that way. However, this understanding manufactures a static creation event different from the Genesis narrative revealed in scripture. What God saw as “good” was more than just the stuff of creation; it was “good” because of the created relationships – how all the stuff holds together. God ordained a relationship between the human caretakers and the garden. It was good. God ordained a relationship between man and woman. It was good. Every married couple knows that relationships are dynamic.

Relationships require nurturing. Nurturing requires that adjustments need to be made from time to time. For a relationship to remain “good” it cannot be left “as is”. So we should not be surprised that when God commands us to care for creation, we will be required to make some alterations. The “goodness” of creation is a dynamic goodness of humans working to fulfill their proper God given relationships. In other words, the question we must ask is not whether we are altering creation, but rather whether we are engaging in the kinds of dynamic shaping and forming activities that fulfill our role as faithful stewards. To alter creation is not only necessary, but can and must be obedient.

Finally, according to the authors, the contraceptive mentality reflects the self-centered spirit of the age that declares that children are something to be avoided, implying that the NFP method is the only obedient method of family planning. According to the authors, the use of other methods is simply a means of embracing the self-centered idols of our age. However, the authors fail to recognize the planned abstinence of NFP as child avoidance. No family planning “method” can have the luxury of being idol-proof. Nor can we be tempted to conclude that parental idol worship is any less hideous beyond the period of pre-conception. From the bleachers to the concert hall, examples of parents raising children for their own egotistical ends abound. Golden calves are not finicky eaters.

So as we confront the important issues of biotechnology, agricultural practice, medicine, genetic engineering, and environmental stewardship, let’s begin by abandoning the use of the term “natural”. Rather, recognizing that sin can distort all human activities, we need to carefully consider whether our technological activities will promote the healing of broken relationships, or will we, the God-ordained shapers and formers, continue along the all to familiar path of destruction. Freed from the dead-end argument that technology is bad if it is “unnatural”, we can ask the right questions. How might our choice to refrain from having children be motivated by selfishness? Will genetically engineered crops help promote or deny justice in our system of world food production? Does the rapid proliferation of such GMOs violate the norms of trust by neglecting proper testing in the race for profits? Is there a better way to actively protect our forests from all forms of destruction?

We don’t ask for the sake of asking. We long for direction. Because when a re-created being is empowered to bring a corner of the creation back into its right relationship, we hear an overtone that harmonizes with the song of creation and redemption. And it sounds good.

For Plumbline, this is Ethan Brue, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Dordt College

1 Torrode, Sam, and Bethany Torrode. “Make Love and Babies.” Christianity Today 12 Nov. 2001: 49