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The Catholic Church is strongly against contraception. Most Protestants nowadays accept it; I gather it was less common in the past. Of course it's possible that Protestants have just given in to worldly things here, but I don't buy that. However, I'm not quite sure that contraception can be seen as allowed by default, either.

There should be either biblical or rational reasons for allowing contraception; I expect there to be both. What are they?

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You should distinguish between the Roman Catholic Church, which is strongly against it, and roman catholics, which don't care what the pope says and do it anyway. –  starblue Aug 31 '11 at 11:57
    
To give the Catholics a head start ;-) –  Bork Blatt Sep 8 '11 at 16:08
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3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

This is all about sex, of course -- in particular, the question of purpose: what it's for.

I will preface my answer by saying that contraception is not directly addressed in the Bible, so my answer is going to be primarily theological rather than biblical.

Catholicism says that sexual acts, to be moral, must have two purposes: that of expressing and confirming the love between the couple and that of procreation -- conceiving children. Contraception prevents the procreative purpose, so the sexual act exists solely for the former purpose. According to the Catholic understanding of the purpose of sex, therefore, it is immoral. Similar arguments can be made about homosexuality, masturbation, oral sex, etc etc. Note that before the publication of Humanae Vitae (the encyclical that effectively bans artificial contraception) the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control actually had a majority report in favour of revoking the ban.

As for Protestants, the case is (inevitably) rather complicated. Some Protestants do indeed see contraception as inherently sinful. They say that planning families is for God to do, so contraception is obstructing God's purpose, and often also echo the Catholic position about the purpose of sex.

Many Protestants, however, believe it possible to separate the two purposes of sex (love and reproduction) -- so it is possible to have a non-sinful sexual relationship without the prospect of children. For instance, the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer has specific provision for couples who are beyond child-bearing age. If a sexual relationship can exist without the possibility of reproduction, and if you believe that God's will can be exercised through the working of human free will, it's not hard to believe that contraception can be non-sinful.

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What is beyond child-bearing age when God is involved? Weren't Abraham and Sarah far beyond that age? –  ℝaphink Aug 24 '11 at 13:56
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Well, I presume it means when a woman is no longer menstruating. Which means, absent a genuine miracle, that she cannot bear children. It's a pastoral recognition of the fact that not all marriages will result in children, and that this is not a contravention of the will of God. –  lonesomeday Aug 24 '11 at 14:03
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Even ignoring "child bearing age," some couples are medically incapable of conception for other reasons. I suspect even the official Catholic position would not condemn such couples who choose to engage in sexual intercourse for the purpose of love. –  Flimzy Sep 12 '11 at 18:58
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The Anglican church, in 1930, was the first protestant church to officially condone birth control, and the others followed quickly thereafter. Probably that is due to the lack of any explicit Biblical condemnation. The Catholic argument against birth control is based on natural law, which tends to be much less persuasive to protestants.

Nevertheless, Protestants do have a long pre-modern history of opposing attempts to avoid the procreative aspect of sex. The primary biblical example that is used to support the view that contraception is sinful is the sin of Onan:

Genesis 38:8-10 (NIV)

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.

Most modern protestants question whether Onan's sin was birth control per se, or his refusal to fulfill his obligation to his brother's wife. But here are Luther, Calvin, and Wesley on Onan:

Luther:

Onan... must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes a Sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive.

Calvin:

The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.

Wesley:

Those sins that dishonor the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he [Onan] did displeased the Lord—and it is to be feared; thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.

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All three are completely wrong, which is quite obvious when you read the verses. And which you stated in the paraphraph following. :D –  Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 9 '11 at 21:31
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There is a debate going around some Protestant circles on whether certain types of birth control are within God's will.

The argument is that some types of birth prevention measures (primarily "the pill") are abortifacients--that is, they cause an embryo to be aborted if it becomes implanted. These abortifacients are causing embryo's--human life that has been implanted and is, up to that point, a viable pregnancy--to be aborted.

Psalms 139:13 (NIV)

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Because of this verse above, we know that God is an intricate part of life from the very beginning, embryonic stages. It's because of this, that many (most? all? some?) Protestants believe that abortion is killing a living human and going against God's will.

However, with this belief in hand, when people learn that chemical birth control ("the pill") is actually an abortifacient, they begin to see that even this form of controlling pregnancy is abortion.

Therefore, there is an debate going around Protestant groups that taking "the pill" is wrong because it causes abortion whereas other forms of contraceptives are not wrong. (Primarily, barrier methods such as condoms.)

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This is not exactly accurate. Progestin-only pills are indeed abortifacient (they prevent an embryo from implanting in the uterus, thereby killing it). Most "pills" contain both progestin and estrogen - the estrogen acts to prevent ovulation (so it is not abortifacient). Some argue that in pills with a high estrogen dose, the risk of abortion is so small that you don't need to worry about it. However, there is no hard scientific data that says how likely it is that these pills will cause an abortion. –  gmoothart Sep 8 '11 at 15:19
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As you pointed out, it's the progestin that is the abortifacient. If the pills solely contained estrogen, then clearly they wouldn't be abortifacients. However, most birth control pills contain both, making them potential abortifacients. So, if there's a 0.05% chance of a chemical abortion, then there's still a chance for abortion, which makes them "wrong". (Also, I must reiterate that this is a debated topic. I'm not claiming this is solid scientific fact.) –  Richard Sep 8 '11 at 15:26
    
I dispute (personally, the church I attend is almost rabidly anti-abortion) this reading of Psalms 139:13. God is an intricate part... well, he's involved. But that's not the point. What matters is: is this already a human being? "You knit me" means, to me, that I was being created. I wasn't done. So... was I already me? From day/hour 0? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 9 '11 at 21:26
    
Yes, this is... semi-off-topic. Semi because the answer makes it clear (and correctly so) that contraception (at least for (evangelical) Protestants) ties into abortion. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Sep 9 '11 at 21:27
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