Saturday, September 30, 2006

Birth Control

Okay, enough lack of controversy. Darn it, this is supposed to be a blog, the web equivalent of...well, a lot, I guess.

I recently got to thinking about the subject of birth control (being the glutton for intellectual punishment that I am). Apparently, until the 1920s no denomination approved of it, and you get one guess as to who first allowed for its use. It seems odd that this is such a modern trend; birth control has been around since ancient times, and there have been plenty of times and places where the desire to limit the number and timing of children was present.

One of the most common ideas of when life begins is that it begins at conception, when egg and sperm unite. This seems logical: the fertilized egg, or zygote, is neither genetically the same as the mother or as the father; it is something new. However, the fact of the matter is that we don't actually know when life begins or ends; we can only say with certainty that life has begun or ended, not the precise point when this occurred. Medical science even allows for a person to be clinically dead and yet be revived.

Let's take an example. An egg and sperm unite, and by pressing fast-forward we find out that this egg divides into separate organisms and identical twins are formed from the one zygote. If ensoulment occurs at conception, then there are three possibilities. The first is that there is no soul present in the newly-formed zygote, the second is that there is one soul, and the third is that there are two souls.

If there is no soul present, then destroying the zygote is little different biologically from removing a wart. Keeping a fertilized egg in cryonic storage might even be considered the equivalent of donating blood. If ensoulment occurs some time after conception, then we really have no idea of when we are making choices over our own bodies and when we are making choices regarding others.

If there is one soul present, then when does the second soul arrive? Is there perhaps an elder and a younger soul in pair of twins, with one twin being a sort of lateral offspring of the other? Could the soul divide and grow into two, much as the cell itself did?

If there are two souls, then they are present in one body. God knows that, left alone, the cell will develop into two human beings and thus provides two souls. Two souls in one body isn't a new idea: Siamese twins are two people but share one body (and perhaps we could count pregnancy, although this would seem to be more of one body inside abother body).

It even seems possible that souls may be formed prior to intercourse. Perhaps the deliberate intention of the parents to produce a child creates a new soul before there is even a vessel for it. Do we really know that this isn't the case?

A large number of pregnancies result in spontaneous abortions. If these organisms do not yet have souls, then this is not a serious problem. If they do have souls, then perhaps we as Christians should be devoting a lot more energy to fixing this. If life begins at conception, then a spontaneous abortion is no different from an induced abortion or infant mortality in terms of a life being snuffed out.

Abortion is wrong for several reasons, but the fact that a human being is killed is secondary. There are times when killing is condoned, and even times when God commands it. Thus, killing is not intrinsically wrong. The primary sin of abortion is pride: we put ourselves in God's place as arbiter over life. If life begins at conception, then obviously those methods which destroy the fertilized egg are murder and those which prevent implantation are, at the very least, homicide. Again, though, it isn't beyond the scope of reason to imagine that life could even begin before conception. If so, then contraceptives are abortifacients. Regardless of these, however, the fact remains that we don't objectively know when life begins. By using contraception, we place ourselves in God's position and thus are out of line. The result is different from that of murder, but the sin of pride remains.

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