Social Question

ETpro's avatar

Where in the Bible does it say all forms of birth control are sin?

Asked by ETpro (34428points) February 10th, 2012

Yeah, I know the Pope is supposed to be infallible when speaking on matters of faith. But the fact is they were wrong about an article of faith back when all Popes insisted the Earth was flat. Popes were wrong about another article of faith when they insisted the Earth was the center of the solar system. They were wrong insisting the sun, moon and planets and all the stars were set in a dome above the Earth. So clearly, regardless of what Catholic theology may claim, Popes aren’t infallible.

Are Catholics drawing their “Birth control is sin.” pronouncement from some actual biblical teaching? If so which book, chapter and verse? Or are they just making a statement about what they personally believe to be true, like they were when they preached a flat Earth with the sun and the planets in a dome circling around it?

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50 Answers

zensky's avatar

Genesis 38:9–10

But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.

GracieT's avatar

I’ve always understood it to mean that because other forms are “killing” fetuses they think of it as abortion. Although how using a condom is “abortion” is beyond me.

YoBob's avatar

@zensky – I’ve always gotten a kick out of that particular passage. In addition to being one of the arguments for birth control being a sin, it is also often used as an argument that pleasuring yourself is sinful. However, upon closer examination, it seems to me like the basic reason God struck down Onan was for refusing to knock up his brother’s wife rather than because of his self stimulation.

So… guess it’s ok in the eyes of the lord to knock up your brother’s wife just as long as you don’t covet your neighbor’s wife along the way… LOL!

Qingu's avatar

I don’t think the Bible has much to say about birth control besides the Onan story already quoted.

However, the Bible explicitly says that killing a fetus is not the same as killing a full-on (Hebrew) human being. Exodus 21:22 says:

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

So killing or harming the woman is punished “eye for an eye.” But killing the fetus is only punished with a fine.

What the implications are for birth control, who knows. But I’ve always found it interesting that Christian opposition to abortion (and it goes back all the way to the early church fathers) doesn’t seem to be based on anything from the Bible. It might be based on ancient Greek opposition to abortion. The Hippocratic oath contains a vow not to perform abortions, for example.

thorninmud's avatar

To think that thousands are dying of preventable AIDS in Africa because of a couple of odd little lines in an odd little tale. Makes me want to be extra careful about what I write on Fluther. You just never know.

judochop's avatar

t passage is about Adultery. Not birth control.

YoBob's avatar

@judochop – True, but in this case it was God who commanded Onan to do his brother’s wife so that his brother could have children, and subsequently struck him dead for purposely spilling his seed to keep her from becoming pregnant.

Hmm… can’t help but wonder if the real reason he was spilling his seed so she wouldn’t get pregnant is so he could prolong the “need” for his continued assistance… :)

JLeslie's avatar

What makes it all illogical to me is the church seems to be ok with the rhythm method. If preventing pregnancy through natural means is ok, then why is prevention by something like a condom not? They are both preventing sperm from getting together with the egg.

YoBob's avatar

I can almost hear the conversation:

Don’t know what to tell you bro… I’ve been doing your wife every evening since God commanded me, but she’s still not pregnant. Not to worry though… I plan on taking a long lunch tomorrow…

Lightning bolt descends from the heavens…

JLeslie's avatar

Regarding the argument in the news right now about Catholic organizations having to provide birth control coverage in their health insurance. A lot of people on TV keep saying they can understand opposition to abortion, but almost everyone is ok with contraception. But, the church isn’t. The Catholic church sees it basically the same as abortion from what I can tell.

jca's avatar

I am not a Bible expert, but this is in Social so I guess I’m free to take a stab at it, pardon the pun. I think (but am not sure) that the Bible says sex is supposed to be for procreation, not pleasure. So to prohibit procreation would be sinful.

Qingu's avatar

@jca, I don’t believe the Bible says that anywhere. It does say “Go forth and multiply.” So you could argue that the Bible encourages procreation (which is partly why so many religious people can’t seem to stop having kids). But it doesn’t say sex shouldn’t be pleasurable, as far as I know.

6rant6's avatar

“And lo, I say unto you that what offspring as ye shall have it shall as I have commanded be. Let none of you, being that you are of this tribe which I this day have given my word on this, shall prevent such conception, except under advisement of the elders in whom my judgement is besmirched, to abstain from intimate relations. This then shall apply equally to all, whether they shall procreate willingly or against their will, to use no means to prevent conception, except reliance on my intervention. This shall apply eqaually to condoms, the pill, and IUDs.”

New Corinthians, Act II, Scene iii

bea2345's avatar

@zensky – I understand that Jewish tradition holds that Onan was punished for disobedience, not for coitus interruptus.

jaytkay's avatar

Maybe contraception is inconsistent with Genesis 1:28.

‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…’

jca's avatar

@Qingu: I did not describe what I meant correctly. My fault. I didn’t mean that it’s not supposed to be pleasurable. I meant that the main purpose is supposed to be procreation, not pleasure.

bea2345's avatar

@6rant6 – What is New Corinthians? All I found was a kindergarten textbook and some football teams.

fundevogel's avatar

@bea2345 I think it’s in the Apocrypha.

Aethelflaed's avatar

You know none of them ever said the world was flat, right?

Qingu's avatar

Yep, Catholics knew the world was round. They basically stole all their cosmology from Aristotle, who knew it too.

They didn’t know about the earth revolving around the sun, and they remained resistant to heliocentrism long after Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo basically proved it—long after Newton proved it beyond doubt—until the mid-1800’s when Galileo’s book on it finally got taken off the index of banned books.

6rant6's avatar

@bea2345 It’s a musical. Someone should be writing it shortly.

YoBob's avatar

@6rant6 – When can I audition for the part of Onan?

Or better yet, how about the part of Lot, who’s daughters got him drunk a couple of nights in a row so they could each in turn have their way with him…

Or even better, how about a generic lecherous old man character who appears throughout the musical in a serial reenactment of the entire collection of these naughty little diddys from the good book?

6rant6's avatar

@YoBob Well if I’m involved, I guarantee you won’t have to sleep with anyone to get the part.

6rant6's avatar

“Onan, the Musical”

You heard it here first.

YoBob's avatar

Drat! I was kind of hoping for a “reading” opposite a pair of hot twins auditioning for the part of Lott’s daughters… ;)

digitalimpression's avatar

Silly @zensky and @YoBob… that verse has nothing to do with birth control. Perhaps you should read some of the other combined letters around that verse.

@GracieT Condom’s are not an abortion. I believe birth control which does not destroy life is perfectly acceptable and within the ideals of the bible’s teachings.

@thorninmud Umm.. what?

@judochop Exactly.

@JLeslie I can’t speak for catholics .. as what I would call a “bible believing Christian” .. condoms are acceptable. If you ask me.. catholicism is a bit wonky at best.

@jca That’s actually not true.

Proverbs 5:18–19
Let thy fountain be blessed : and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

JLeslie's avatar

@digitalimpression Generally I find the average Catholic to be much more reasonable than the average Evangelical Christian. But, they both have their extremists of course, like any religion.

thorninmud's avatar

@digitalimpression Well, this is from a Catholic apologist website:

“The Bible does not prohibit birth control by the name “birth control”, but it does indeed prohibit it by action. In Genesis 38:9 we read that Onan “spilled his seed upon the ground”, and in Genesis 38:10 God slew him “because he did a detestable thing”.

St. Augustine (4th century) rightly summed up the Apostolic tradition on the subject of birth control in his treatise on the sin of adultery when he wrote: “Marital relations even with a lawful wife, are unlawful and degrading when the conception of a child is deliberately frustrated. This was the sin of Onan, and God struck him dead because of it.”

Couple that with the Vatican’s stance against the use of condoms as a preventative measure against AIDS in Africa. Then consider that about 1.2 million Africans have died of AIDS thus far. About 6000 were dying each day a few years back. How many of those cases were a direct result of the Vatican’s position? And the Vatican’s position rests on those strange lines from this strange story.

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie I find that to be generally true as well, but the fact of the matter is that the opposition to birth control that the Catholic church has isn’t strongly supported by the Bible, neither are other concepts like purgatory and the Pope’s infallibility.

digitalimpression's avatar

@thorninmud Thanks for clarifying. It’s always interesting to me when someone quotes something from the old testament as if it should be applied nowadays. (be it the pope or a pauper)

There are lots of other strange things in the old testament that we obviously shouldn’t do any longer. We shouldn’t stone each other, pluck out eyeballs, or sacrifice a pure white sheep and spread oil about the place.

Using the old testament as a guideline for living (to me) is a very ignorant (and by ignorant I mean that they don’t really understand the bible) thing to do regardless of who does it.

@JLeslie “Evangelical” is a pretty general term. I can see where you’re coming from if (perchance) you were referring to lunatics like the members of westboro baptist though… those people are outside of their minds..

@whoever Yes, the bible said go forth and multiply (that was a little while ago) .. but God also gave us a brain. I think its clear that God didn’t intend for us to multiply until the earth’s crust collapsed under the weight of our babies.

ETpro's avatar

@zensky I assume you are testing me, and that you know full well that, as Onan’s seen was greed, not birth control or masturbation using a vagina for the cecessary stimulation. Onan wanted his brother’s inheritance for himself, and so he refused to do as the law required, and give his sister-in-law a child who would inherit his brother;‘s estate.

@GracieT I should have made that distinction in the question details. Yes, some forms of birth control do act on a fertilized egg, and thus could be characterized as very early term chemical abortion.I;m interested here in forms of birth control that DO NOT act on a fertilized egg, buit rahter prevent fertilization from ever happening to begin with.

@YoBob As I pointed out to @zensky above, those who try to make Onan’s sin about birth control or masturbation. I’m with you in finding the law as it was then a bit quaint. As an only child, it wouldn’t legitimize my getting a piece of my brother’;s wife anyway.

@Qingu Yes, I often bring Exodus 21:22 up to anti abortion crusaders. I know it’s pointless., Their minds are already made up, and they cannot be “confused” by the facts—even those in the Bible or Torah. But it’s great fun to watch these people who insist on literal interpretation of the Bible tie themselves into a pretzel trying to come up with some will explanation for why this particular verse can’t be interpreted literally.

@thorninmud Yes, when it comes to someone letting their brother just die because it offends their bluenose attitude, it is no longer even remotely funny. It is sick and moral;y depraved.

@judochop No, it’s not about adultery. The Law required that is a man;s brother dies without having gotten his wife pregnant> It had to do with inheritance of property and wealth. Onan wanted his bnrother’s estate for himself. God could have simply made coitus interruptus not working. Instead, God made an example of Conan


ETpro's avatar

It’s getting late. I’ll respect,. The candidates renew or grab the bid inthe Robber barons. It;s time for the greed to be displae

YoBob's avatar

@digitalimpression – ...and perhaps you should actually read the responses. I believe the very first thing I and others you called out had to say on the subject was that the passage indicates that God struck down Onan for refusing to knock up his brother’s wife, not for spilling his seed.

mattbrowne's avatar

I can’t think of a single verse.

Go forth and multiply means that we don’t want our offspring to suffer and die by overusing our planet’s resources. So the intensity of the multiplication always depends on the context. Having 10 children made a lot of sense thousands of years ago. Having 2 children makes a lot of sense today. The Proverbs are full of advice for using our rational mind. So let’s do this. Unfortunately, the Pope still doesn’t get it.

YoBob's avatar

@digitalimpression -

“There are lots of other strange things in the old testament that we obviously shouldn’t do any longer.”

I absolutely agree. (and I realize this is a bit off topic, but…) This is exactly why fundamentalist Islam is so terrifying. Those guys actually believe that Mohammad laid down the law for all time around a millennium ago and that is exactly how the world should remain.

digitalimpression's avatar


“and perhaps you should actually read the responses”.
I’ll confess that when I read the first couple of lines of a post and it seems as if it’s spinning into left field, I avoid the rest. And as a personal rule for religious questions (this has come in quite handy and has been accurate 99% of the time) If I see a “LOL” anywhere in the post it usually means someone is mocking Christianity and is therefore going to be a waste of my time. I am starting to suspect that you are in the 1%, but still not sure.

“old testament”
Jesus very clearly put into motion a new covenant.

JLeslie's avatar

@digitalimpression If you mean general, like I should not generalize to everyone who idenitifies that way as being on the fringe, well, I never mean everyone when I generalize about a group. But, there is a pretty large Evangelical, loud, fairly powerful, group here in America, who is referred to as the Republican base at this time, the base of one of the two parties that have real influence in American politics, and so I say generalizing about them and what they push for, and how they say the world works, or how America should work, is pretty valid.

digitalimpression's avatar

@JLeslie I could make a similar comment about the “left”... but knowing fluther like I do.. I wouldn’t get a lot of support..

JLeslie's avatar

@digitalimpression I generalize about the left, especially the extreme left also. I generalize about lots and lots of groups, not just political groups. Again, generalize, usually only means statistically more likely in the group, but does not speak for the entire group, nor each individual in the group. When people generalize about the Jewish vote I don’t get offended or annoyed if the generalization is true, even if I don’t agree, I just state I don’t agree with the majority of Jews even though I am Jewish. I’ve said it before, sociologists, marketing analysts, business and politics in general use statistics and group behavior as valid measures, I don’t get why everyone freaks out during an intellectual conversation about a topic.

Earthgirl's avatar

I am not condemning or defending the idea that using birth control is a sin. I happen to have been raised Catholic but no longer identify as a Catholic. I myself do not believe that it is a sin.

Church dogma is not decided only on the basis of the bible and revelation. Sometimes interpretation is needed. This is one of the functions of the church hierarchy.

“Roman Catholic Dogma is thus: “a truth revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church declared as binding.”[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.”[4]
The faithful are required to accept with the divine and Catholic faith all which the Church presents either as solemn decision or as general teaching. Yet not all teachings are dogma. The faithful are only required to accept those teachings as dogma, if the Church clearly and specifically identifies them as infallible dogmata.[5]
Not all truths are dogmata. The Bible contains many sacred truths, which the faithful recognize and agree with, but which the Church has not defined as dogma. Most Church teachings are not dogma. Cardinal Avery Dulles points out that in the 800 pages of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, there is not one new statement for which infallibility is claimed.[6] Source below:

Earthgirl's avatar

Your examples are dealing with two entirely different situations. In the case of deciding whether or not the earth is the center of the solar system we can prove or disprove the idea based on actual factual evidence. Therefore, there is a right and wrong answer to be established which is reality based.
In the case of whether or not birth control is wrong or sinful we are dealing with a moral judgement. It cannot be proven nor disproven conclusively even if it is stated in the Bible. It can be shown to be either counter-productive to human happiness and well-being or beneficial and we would have people on both sides of that argument I would have to assume. But it cannot be proven wrong because in the final analysis it is a personal belief based on personal opinion.
As such, in a free society we need to protect people’s right to choose and not have someone else’s beliefs forced on them.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Earthgirl The examples are supposed to speak to the supposed infallibility of the Pope and act only to frame part of the question’s background. That said, my understanding is that the doctrine of papal infallibility is rather misunderstood and does not actually entail that the Pope never sins or errs. The way that the doctrine is mitigated, however, probably raises its own set of questions.

Earthgirl's avatar

SavoirFaire The idea of infallibility is a relatively recent idea (Vatican Council 1869–70) and it only applies to matters of faith and morals. I don’t really know my history in depth about heliocentirsm but this explanation seems to explain more fully what the “Galileo Inquisition” was really about. I welcome counter information. As I say, I am not firmly grounded in this history.

jaytkay's avatar

@Earthgirl Cardinal Avery Dulles points out that in the 800 pages of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, there is not one new statement for which infallibility is claimed

But isn’t the current leadership kind of anti-Vatican II?

Earthgirl's avatar

jaytkay I don’t really know to be honest. I don’t pay much attention to church affairs. It’s only when they try to legislate away my freedom that I sit up and pay attention.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Earthgirl Like I said, the whole background is often misunderstood. I was just trying to explain what @ETpro was trying to get at with the examples. As for the Galileo affair, I think it is slightly disingenuous of that blogger to suggest that Galileo trying to defend his view from a religious critic makes it a political matter and not a spiritual one. Part of the typical criticism regarding the event is how the Church allowed science, politics, and theology to get so intertwined in the first place. I do agree that the whole thing is more complicated than the common version of the story lets on, though.

Qingu's avatar

Okay. I actually just read two biographies of Galileo. I think that blog is pretty misleading.

It parrots a common defense of the Church’s behavior: that heliocentrism was “up in the air” at the time of Galileo, that Galileo didn’t actually prove it with his observations, and that Galileo’s math was often wrong. All true! It also correctly points out that the Church itself was torn about heliocentrism and its response to the telescopic observations was flailing. And it points out that Galileo himself was abrasive and that there were political dimensions to the whole affair.

But it completely ignores the bigger picture. The bigger picture is this: the Bible says clearly that the sun revolves around the Earth. This interpretation had been standard Catholic dogma for centuries. This interpretation was bolstered by the “Thomastic synthesis,” that is, Thomas Aquinas’ co-opting of the philosophy of Aristotle (who was a geocentrist). This interpretation underlied and was almost universally cited in the Church’s negative reactions to Copernicanism and Galileo.

Whatever the Church’s internal reservations about this ideology, the fact of the matter is that the Church actively enforced this ideology through the thought police of the Inquisition. Furthermore, the Church didn’t distinguish between “science” and “religion,” it was just truth. In 1616, the thought police told Galileo that his promotion of Copernicanism was treading too dangerously upon the Church’s stated position on the truth. Galileo was told that he could only discuss Copernicanism as a “hypothesis” and could not teach it or promote it.

The blog says:

“The Catholic Church always allowed the teaching of heliocentricity as a scientific theory before, during and after the Galileo inquisition.”

This is just false. They allowed discussion of heliocentrism hypothetically. If you actually promoted heliocentrism as true, you got in trouble.

(This is actually how Galileo’s dialogue is framed. It’s just three guys having a discussion, supposedly not “promoting” one view over the other. The problem is that the force of Galileo’s arguments for heliocentrism in the dialogue completely destroyed the Aristotelian guy (“Simplicio”). So for Galileo to say that he wasn’t actually promoting Copernicanism is like saying he smoked but didn’t inhale.)

So yeah, you can argue that Galileo should have kept his mouth shut better. That doesn’t make the Catholic Church right on the matter. It doesn’t change the fact that the Catholic Church’s official doctrine on Copernicanism up until the 1800’s was that it should be banned. It certainly doesn’t change the completely indefensible nature of the Inquisition as “thought police.”

Qingu's avatar

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course. Galileo thought he had made friends with Maffeo Barberini, who would later become Pope Urban. Urban later turned on Galileo when he deemed Galileo did not sufficiently coat his Dialogues in a “medicine” of hypothetical discussion. It’s often said that Urban got pissed that G. made the dumb character (Simplicio) seem like Urban, but that’s something of an oversimplification. Urban’s own philosophy on the matter was pretty distinct from Simplicio’s.

—Urban believed—and enforced fealty to this belief—that you can’t draw any conclusions about reality from what we would now call scientific observations. He was familiar with the moons of Jupiter and the evidence for a moving Earth, but he thought that you could never really “prove” that it all wasn’t just some illusion put there by God to test your faith. In short, Pope Urban was a complete dumbass. He was also hilariously corrupt and nepotistic.—

Simplicio, Galileo’s fictional character in the dialogue, was a different kind of dumbass. He was a stalwart Aristotelian. It’s hard to argue that Galileo had Urban in mind when he wrote Simplicio. However, at the end of the Dialogue, he did put one line in Simplicio’s mouth that echoed Urban’s basic “we can’t know anything” philosophy. Since Simplicio was the doofus of the dialogue, this made it seem like Galileo thought Urban’s philosophy was stupid. If Galileo was smart, he would have put the “we can’t know anything” line in one of the smarter character’s mouth.

The long and the short is: it’s not clear if Galileo actually intended to slight Urban by putting that line in Simplicio’s mouth. And it’s not clear if Urban was mad that Galileo was making fun of him or if he was mad that Galileo did not sufficiently treat Copernicanism as a hypothesis and subscribe to Urban’s idiotic ontology.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Qingu A bit more on the Simplicio character here.

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