In the book's introduction, University of Texas at Austin philosophy professor J. Budziszewski addresses the three goods of marriage: procreative, unitive, and sacramental. The error of our time, Budziszewski writes, has been trying to tear the three apart. "By saying 'yes' to union but 'no' to procreation, we still get a kind of union, but it goes bad; it ferments, turns sour, and begins to stink," writes Budziszewski.
With the problem thus stated, the purpose of the book then is to put the 3 back together. The authors do so both successfully and efficiently. Open Embrace, although small, is filled with great wisdom.
Catholics practicing Natural Family Planning will find nothing new here, but then that is not the book's intended audience. Rather, the Torodes have written a book for other couples like themselves - Protestant couples that were never taught to oppose contraception.
Like Kimberly Hahn, and others who have traveled the same road before them, Sam explains that he originally, incorrectly assumed that the Catholic Church's prohibition on contraception was a superstition, leftover from the Middle Ages. After a friend explained that the Church actually had reasons for its teaching, he decided to research the subject himself. The book is the result.
Beginning with what it means to be created in the image of God, the Torodes reason that our sexuality reflects God's likeness. It is from this "theology of the body" then, that the Torodes logically embrace a vision of married love and the one-flesh union which cannot be diminished or compromised through the action of contraception.
Their logic is clear, simple, and easy to follow. Desiring to conform their desires and actions to the natural rhythms of the woman's body, they lead the reader to Natural Family Planning. There, they encounter a profound, biblical perspective on the meaning of sex - namely, that love cannot be contained in just two bodies. Marital union reflects the Trinity.
A minor weakness of the book is that it makes no attempt to examine contraception from a moral standpoint. Rather than suggesting that contraception is evil or sinful, the Torodes are content to say that it is not "ideal." Again, one must remember their audience.
At one point, the authors quote Toni Weschler, who does not discourage couples from using condoms during their fertile time. Any Natural Family Planning instructor, however, can explain that in addition to the high failure rate of condoms, the use of condoms will negatively impact a couple's ability to recognize signs of fertility.
While they do not address the moral theology, the authors do present a convincing argument against the many defenses of contraception by Christian authors (Dobson, LaHaye, etc.) that say that contraception can be used for good or ill depending upon one's intention.
The book stands as a challenging critique to a culture where the contraceptive mentality treats fertility as a sickness and children as inconveniences. The Torodes lay to rest the long-held myth that all NFP is the Rhythm Method and also address the many marital and child-spacing benefits of modern, scientific NFP. Finally, they demonstrate how the contraceptive mentality leads to abortion-on-demand.
In the book's final section, Bethany writes a touching affirmation of what it means to be a mother. Her chapter, Be Not Afraid, reflecting both Scripture and the favorite words of Pope John Paul II, will warm the heart of any mother.
The book's great strength is that it wraps a very Catholic message with Protestant gift wrap. Many Protestants refuse to hear the Catholic perspective on contraception simply because it is the "Catholic perspective." The Torodes, however, quote from a variety of Catholics - Mother Teresa, various Popes, G.K. Chesterton, Fulton Sheen, and others. For example, in the book's second section, Sam provides a historical perspective on contraception. He effectively uses the early Church Fathers to demonstrate the Church's condemnation of contraception and abortion from its very beginnings.
I heartily recommend the book not only for Protestants, but also for the 95% of Catholics that ignore the Church's teaching on contraception. It would make a wonderful engagement or wedding gift for young couples.
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