My Catholic upbringing instilled in me that masturbation was a sin. I thought it had something to do with impure thoughts but according to the Church’s strange twisting of scriptural text it’s condemnation is tied more to a negative view of contraception. Seems we were never supposed to refrain from God’s command to Adam and Noah about being fruitful and
overpopulating filling the earth
Ahh Catholicism. What fond memories I have about my first Communion, Confirmation, serving my first Mass as an alter boy and best of all, my awareness of sin. Without sin in our lives there is chaos. There can be no understanding for our purpose on earth and what lies in store for us afterwards without a sense of our sinful life. Sin tells us what we are doing wrong and by default what we need to change in order for all to be right in the universe. Thus saith the clergy who formed my early childhood views of the world.
We learned all about sin in our weekly catechism classes under the tutelage of Father Vogel. You might not make it into heaven if you die with mere venial sins on your soul. There’s a place called Purgatory reserved for such tainted people. But if your sins were “mortal” in nature as you lay dying then hell was your only destiny, unless there was a priest handy who could administer the last rites of atonement and the eucharist.
We were expected not to eat anything before receiving communion and confessional with the parish priest was requisite beforehand in order that your soul was pure enough to accept the body and blood of Jesus. My typical confessions, which began with “Bless me father for I have sinned …” usually consisted of impure thoughts about the red-head, Alice Henderson, giving the finger to the protestant kid because he called me a papist and lying to my mom when she asked what was taking me so long in the bathroom.
We were told masturbation was a sin though my recollection for the reasons aren’t clear. However, in light of the controversy that is surrounding the President’s decision to require full coverage for contraception by certain religious entities, I have done a little research to find out why “sinful” masturbation was a part of my religious upbringing. In the eyes of the Church, wasting your seed, as it is biblically referred to, is a form of contraception. No. Really! Bare with me here and I’ll explain.
First let me get on my soap box. Such incomprehensible positions were responsible for my drifting away from catholicism in my late teens. The Church, in its over-reach into every day life, seem to diminish the larger value of the faith that spoke to our humanity while providing a spiritual relationship intended to connect us to an unseen source of strength and wisdom. I didn’t fully understand the latter part of this relationship until I totally abandoned the church years later. How ironic, but that’s another story.
I understand the need for restraints and consequences for socially destructive behavior but there has to be a point where attempts to dominate every aspect of our lives has to have more adverse effects than positive outcomes for our personal sanity. Keep in mind that most of the Church’s rulings on many things they govern their flock by were evaluated by people who isolated themselves centuries ago in monasteries and convents; avoiding the realities of the human experience in this world in the hope that they would be drawn closer to God
Soul searching under such conditions has its merits, but the long term effect of such isolation can seriously disconnect people from the real world. Even Jesus limited himself to 40 days in the dessert before returning and intermingling with sinful man, only to be put to death apparently by the religious authorities of his day for challenging the status quo while showing concern for those outcasts not welcome in the house of God.
The practice by religious orthodoxy to have a ruling for every thought and act we engage in may provide security for those people who have been beaten down by life and just can’t muster the courage to step out on their own, but for the rest of us, a few basics like charity to all and doing unto others … etc. etc., is sufficient Contraception was too intricate for our young minds to ingest back then so very little was discussed about it. But the reality is that it is such a far fetched concept in light of our natural urges that any thinking priest or nun could not defend it I’m sure and merely left the issue standing with the proviso that violators would be condemned.
The Obama administration’s ruling has called for all organizations, public and private, to provide free contraception coverage with their health insurance programs they provide their employees. Churches and religious schools were excluded from this but hospitals and charities that don’t necessarily employ people who share specific faith values were not. This has become a tempest in a tea pot and a cause célèbre for those on the right who are trying to foster a “socialist” image of the President and any liberal politician.
The Catholic church and their lay operatives are asserting that their constitutional rights are being violated because they’re being “forced” to participate in an act they view as a sin against God. To prevent the birth of a child is a sin, even if their is no conception, as the “holy mother church” sees it.
It is this amazing stretch of the imagination that has people like me questioning the true will of an Almighty Creator who no longer tends to his creation since he shut down Paradise almost as soon as he initiated it. We now have, according to the Church dogma, free will to choose such things as limiting the number of children we want but only if we do it according to what “the Church teaches … is morally permissible [by taking] into account the natural rhythms of human fertility and to have coitus only during the infertile times in order to regulate conception”.
Many American Catholics are also seeing this as somewhat absurd and are inclined to take the Obama administration’s take on this issue. 58 percent of Catholics agree that employers should be required to offer health plans that cover contraception at no cost and 53 percent of Catholic voters agree “that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.”
Let’s be clear however. Sin, as the Church declares, is not always a specific violation one can pinpoint in the so-called “inerrant word 0f God” – the Holy Bible. Too often it is an interpretation by old men who base it on doctrine and perceptions of those aforementioned church fathers who isolated themselves from human civilization.
Much of what passes for “God’s word” in catholicism today comes from the Vatican within the last 50 years in two very lengthy documents – Gaudium et Spes, latin for Joy and Hope (a rather Orwellian label) and an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI called Human Vitae which is latin for Of Human life. It was the Church’s attempt to bring their thinking up to 20th century realities but their hearts were still back in medieval times. It’s tedious reading and as precise as it is, one get’s the distinct impression that the church has taken quite a leap to take specific versus from scripture and translate them them into absolutes like contraception.
At the heart of contraception’s sinful nature is the passage in Genesis 38 that tells how God was dissatisfied with Onan, the son of Judah for refusing to impregnate his dead brother’s wife in order for her to bear children. Judah so instructed Onan as was part of their custom but Onan “knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also.” (Gen 38:9-10)
The advantage of being an excommunicant of the Church allows us not to buy into such narrow, rigid references so easily. Was God mad about the spilled semen or was he mad that Onan refused to obey his father and follow a custom that was part of “an ancient Eastern brotherhood law called the law of the Levirate” described in Deuteronomy 25:5? Orthodox Catholics lean towards the “spilled semen” scenario where an outsider might view it as an incomprehensible response from a vengeful God.
There is a third possibility that has Judah killing Onan and blaming it on God, falling back on the belief that a parent would be justified in killing a willful child as allowed in Deuteronomy 21: 18-21. But that’s speculation and conspiratorial in nature and we know all good christians never engage in such practices.
In the thinking of many devoutly orthodox Catholics and other Christian sects it is not considered unreasonable to draw such specific conclusions from dubious text within scriptures. When one author on this topic posed the hypothetical question – “WOULDN’T IT BE HELPFUL IF THE BIBLE CONTAINED CONDEMNATIONS OF CONTRACEPTION THAT WERE MORE EXPLICIT AND MORE FREQUENT?”, the glib, superior response was “Not really. The lack of multiple references doesn’t disturb the person who has a sense of theological realism.”
And who are these people who have a sense of theological realism? Old men who isolated themselves from civilization centuries ago and whose successors in the Vatican are not that far removed from them. Or so it seems.
Bless me father if I have sinned for questioning the authority of the church who has been out of step with their followers for quite some time now.