Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona expressed in one of the interviews that there should be equal promotion of all family planning methods, whether natural or artificial, in the country. The chief health officer further stressed that all methods should be made available to couples if only to aid them in practicing responsible parenthood. Ona, a Roman Catholic, emphasized that, “Responsible parenthood is the responsibility and the decision of a very well-informed couple, considering whatever religious beliefs.” While Ona welcome the use of artificial contraceptives, his Church vocally opposed it. Church representatives have often equated contraceptive with abortion. Contraception, in the eyes of the Church, allows men to use women as objects and for pleasure without responsibility of birth. The original purpose of procreation and unity was replaced with selfishness and convenience, according to some of its apologists.

With his view and stand on the issue,- in the eyes of the leaders of his Church, is Ona committing a sin like the biblical Onan? Just asking.

We are all familiar with the story of Onan in the Book of Genesis. What was Onan guilty of, social or sexual sin? According to the earliest interpretations of scholars, how he frustrated the purpose of levirate marriage was irrelevant. What Onan had done was a grave dishonor to his late brother and not being true to his obligations. His sin, based on plain reading, was his refusal to provide his dead brother with an heir. The text focuses more on social and legal dimensions.

But when ancient religious authorities try to legislate morality at around 100 BC to 300 AD, rabbis and early Christian fathers sought other explanations for the sin of Onan, focusing more on the sexual act itself. The rabbis interpreted it as birth control through masturbation and ultimately they came into conclusion that what Onan have done was wasteful but not a severe sin and the punishment should be left to God alone. In general, the rabbis recognized that intercourse need not always result in pregnancy or procreation and there could also be purpose even in pleasure, or any act beyond simple reproduction.

On the other hand, early Christians saw it differently. The Christian church determined that man's sexual duty was to procreate and replenish the earth, no more no less. Sex for pleasure was a weakness, if not an outright sin. Thomas of Aquinas (1225-1274) have written volumes of materials about sexual subjects and these thoughts dominated Christian teaching for centuries. In one of his teachings he taught that any sexual activity that does not lead to procreation was deviant, even within the bonds of marriage. Sex without procreation was lust,- directed solely at venereal pleasure. Other sexual sins, according to Aquinas, includes adultery, rape, and incest. Theodore of Tarsus in the 7th century even distinguished onanism from masturbation or self-stimulation. He felt onanism was a form of contraception, not just a pleasure-giving act.

The Church today,- as far as I know, does not teach that a couple must ‘seek’ to have a sibling from each and every sexual act or love-making. Instead, it teaches all the married couple NOT to suppress the life-giving and life-nurturing power that is an essential of marriage and of their being one in flesh. Sex is holy. It was created by God for two purposes : Procreation and Unity (in all aspects of life). Pleasure is a consequence and not a purpose and if we remove one of the purpose, we defile the marriage bed. That is all I’ve got from my not so vast knowledge of the topic.

But there’s are two things I am certain : the Story of Onan was one of the factors behind Church’s evolving attitude towards sex and contraception. Similarly, the latest pronouncement of Ona, being an alter ego of President Benigno C. Aquino, III,- is also perceived to be a great factor in Philippine Catholic Church’s attitude towards the latter's new administration…

(Photo of Ceremonial Turn Over soflinked from Department of Health Gallery)

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