By Patrick Coffin
Emmaus Road, 2010
Having already blushed my way through the opening lines of Dark Night of the Soul, of course I had to jump on any Catholic Company review book featuring a picture of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss on the cover. Survival of the species might very well depend on it, you know.
Well, sorry, go ahead and put away the candles and silk sheets; turns out Patrick Coffin’s book isn’t quite about that. What it is, however, is a pretty good one-stop overview of the Church’s teaching on birth control, in the context of contemporary culture.
Coffin opens with some background: How we got the encyclical Humanae Vitae, and why from the very beginning it was not universally embraced. He shares his own spiritual history by way of example, and also the reasoning that made him eventually accept the church’s doctrine.
From there the book moves into a comprehensive review of the major elements of NFP-apologetics. There are chapters on:
- Church Tradition concerning the use of birth control
- Birth Control in the Bible
- The Sacrament of Marriage as a reflection of the Holy Trinity
- Natural Law arguments against contraception (including a nice explanation of what “Natural Law” actually is)
- Contraception myth-busting — one chapter covering a potpourri of topics, and a second addressing the question of population control
- How sterilization fits into church teaching – both for those considering the procedure, and those who have already been sterilized
- What, exactly, are the differences between contraception and Natural Family Planning?
- How do modern fertility treatments fit into church teaching?
An appendix provides a useful array of recommended resources for those who want to learn more, including contact information for the major NFP methods taught in North America.
The book is short (134 pages) and the tone is conversational. Each chapter is compact and easily readable — at times to the point of being a mite choppy. I think the book would be most helpful to a catholic reader who wants to quickly dive into the subject and get a good grasp on the major issues. Between the appendix and the many well-known authors quoted throughout the book (Kimberly Hahn, Janet Smith, Christopher West, etc.), for any given topic, Coffin’s book is a jumping-off point: You get the main ideas, and he gives you clues for where to look if you want to dig deeper.
I don’t, however, think the book would normally be helpful to a reader still struggling with the church’s teachings on sex. In such a compact work covering so many topics, there isn’t space to develop arguments as thoroughly as such a reader would need. At times as I read I thought, “But what about____ objection?” or “But that wouldn’t makes sense to someone who has ____concern” or simply, “This argument needs to be developed more explicitly”.
I am hopeful that Sex Au Naturel will go into second and third editions. There are areas where I think a more thorough or carefully developed treatment would be helpful. But at its base this is a great first go-round at attempting to put a lot of material into a compact and readable form, accessible to ordinary catholics. I firmly intend to keep it on my own shelves for future reference, and should also add this is a good title for the shelves of any parish library.
Cover art courtesy of Emmaus Road.