What Goes In…

“Surely my lips shall not speak unrighteousness, neither shall my tongue utter deceit” (Job 27:4).

1.  Gossip (the first post in a 3 part series)

“…prolonged viewing of media violence can lead to desensitization toward violence in real life.  The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values, and behaviors in children.”  (1)

“70% of 18 to 24 year old men visit pornographic sites in a typical month. 66% of men in their 20s and 30s also report being regular users of pornography.” (2)

67% of women’s conversations are gossip, according to the Social Issues research Center. (3)

What do these  three seemingly random bits of statistical data have in common?  What in the world is this post going to be about?  Do I at least have you curious?

Did you ever hear the expression “you are what you eat?”  I always thought it was a silly saying, especially because if I could choose to be any food I would definitely be a cupcake…or a bag of popcorn.  I know its supposed to remind us that we will only be as healthy as the food we ingest is good, but I still always thought it was an amusing way to get to me to eat my veggies (who wants to be a brussel sprout anyway?).  I would like to submit to you that there is a better maxim for us to keep in mind: What goes in, must come out.  Now, stop right there – I am NOT talking about food here.  I am talking about what we consume from the culture.  What we ‘take in’ from various media, magazines, books and friends.   Ah!  Now the apparently random statistics above make more sense!   For the purposes of this post I’d like to focus on the third statistic.  The one about gossip.  (Yes I am going in reverse order here, but in the mean time if you’d like to read some of my thoughts on pornography, check out The Pornified Culture)

Gossip?  Gossip? Why should we care about gossip?  Its pretty normal…right? Unfortunately, yes, it does seem normal – or perhaps normal isnt the right word.  Mainstream.  Prevalent. Those are better words.  Gossip is interesting because it is so easy to forget that it is a sin.  Its wrong, and its evil.  “There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that plots wicked schemes, feet that run swiftly to evil, the false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers”  Proverbs 6:16-19.  That’s a pretty hefty condemnation from Proverbs!  What strikes me is that of the “seven abominations” at least 3 of them have to do with talking.

“But nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” James 3:8.

“For, “He who would love life, and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit” 1 Peter 3:10.

“Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, Slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these things but also approve of those who practice them”  Romans 1:28-32.

“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless” James 1:26.

These verses are just a few that illustrate that God is serious about gossip.  Now, lets clarify what gossip is and what it isn’t.  Gossip is not about fact.  Gossip is more akin to slander.  Slander, according to Mirriam Webster’s Dictionary, is “malicious talk; to spread damaging information; to defame; to speak ill of.”  Gossip, according to Funk and Wagnal’s dictionary means “idle or malicious talk about others.”   Both definitions use the word ‘malicious.’  Gossip is ‘not nice.”  It makes another person look bad – its damaging.  Gossip is not concerned with the Truth.

When we speak about others behind their backs, and we don’t think they would like to overhear – well then there’s a good chance you are gossiping.  Some good questions to ask yourself are “Am I spreading the Truth by telling this, or am I spreading what I think might be the Truth?  Is this a rumor I overheard?  Would the person I am speaking about be upset if she/he overheard me?”  If the answer to any of these is yes, you might want to stop yourself because there is a good chance you are gossiping.

Gossip can be hard to pin down.  Sometimes we don’t realize we are engaging in it.  After all, us girls like to talk (and talk and talk and talk) and sometimes its easier to talk about other people than it is to talk about anything else.  That is why we must be choosy about who our friends are – and how we interact with acquaintances.   If I’ve been insinuating anything in this post thus far it is that we tend to become what we consume – if we surround ourselves with gossipy people, there’s a good chance we too will fall into gossip.  This is one area where we must be careful about what and who we expose ourselves too.  Being surrounded by those who engage in gossip tends to desensitize our consciences to it – making it all the harder to recognize and avoid.

So what do you do?  Try to only say positive things about another person when in conversation, or relay only facts.  For instance, “Mary” might be sick, and that’s not a positive thing, but it is a fact.  Now, if you tell someone that “Mary” is sick and you think she’s sick because you heard she was skinny dipping in the neighbor’s pool…well then you are treading into gossipy territory.  It can be a fine line sometimes, and that’s what makes it tricky – but the devil is in the details – literally.  It’s not wrong to talk about how someone made you feel.  Your feelings are totally legitimate.  What is not legit is speaking maliciously about the person you feel wronged you.  It is possible to be upset about what someone may have done to you and not gossip about them.  Remember, gossip is slanderous – damaging and malicious.  In the Bible it is often likened to murder – except its murder with the tongue.  Less grisly, less glitzy, but just as wrong.  Gossip tends to carry with it a judgement of some sort.  Christ told us that we are never to judge another person – that’s His job.  We are to give people the benefit of the doubt, and hope that at their True Judgement they end up with the sheep and not the goats.   When we feel tempted to Gossip perhaps we’d do well to instead say a quick prayer for the would-be victim of our verbal murder.  This has the double benefit of being good for their salvation and ours.   This will also retrain your consciences to be able to better detect gossip, so you can avoid participating in it.

It may feel uncomfortable to you if some of your friends are gossiping and you are part of the conversation.  Do you say something?  Do you just stay quiet and hope they change the subject?  Do you walk away?  Although this is an uncomfortable position to be in, its important to remind yourself that gossip is a sin;  serious enough to merit a place in the Ten Commandments (Number 8 – Thou Shalt Not bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor – is about lying and gossiping).   Serious enough to be mentioned by St. Paul when he named the qualities of people who have turned to evil ways.  If your friend was about to commit a murder, would you yell at them to stop?  If your friend was going to rob a bank, would you try to talk them out of it?  Why then would you stay silent if they were engaging in gossip?

Satan loves gossip.  It seems like such an “innocent” sin.  It’s not any of the “big ones,” like adultery or murder, and it doesn’t leave any visible aftermath, so it seems relatively harmless.  It’s not.   Gossip is an attack on the goodness and dignity of another person.  This is serious stuff!  Each and every person is made in the image and likeness of God, our Heavenly Father.  Gossiping about someone is like throwing mud at God.  Its sullying the dignity of another.  God takes this very personally.  Gossip is a surreptitious soul killer.  It drives a wedge between you and God’s Grace and when this happens you are more vulnerable to temptations on other fronts.  How many of us have weakened our souls to the point where we don’t recognize sin!?

How do we remedy this?  How do we retrain our souls to inform our intellects of the danger of gossip?  It starts with a good confession.  Getting rid of all the spiritual “gunk” that is blocking God’s Grace is the first step.  Once you have entered into a state of Grace yourself (what we call it when you have confessed your sins, received absolution, and have no sin on your soul) you will already be a little better equipped to confront a weakness to gossip.  The rest is all about training.  Try to imagine your conscience as a muscle – if it’s exercised regularly it gets stronger.  If you train it right, with lots of “practice” then muscle memory will kick in.

I used to ice skate.  I had to practice form over and over again – skating in half circles called “edges” with my hands and arms and head and neck and legs all in the right position.   It was tedious.  It seemed like overkill sometimes, and it got boring.  However, when it came time to move onto trickier things, my arms and legs and head and neck would “automatically” go into the correct position.  This muscle memory was ‘programmed’ into me by the practice and repetition.  I went to a skating rink about 2 years after I gave up the sport, and wouldn’t you know it, when I stepped onto the ice, it “came right back.”   That muscle memory is a powerful thing!  Granted I was a little rusty, but I knew with a little practice I could be right back where I had been – and better.

It’s the same with our consciences.  We need to create some spiritual muscle memory when it comes to gossip.  We need to train our consciences to recognize gossip and to catch ourselves before we participate.  It may be hard at first, it may take a concentrated effort on your part, but it will get easier as your conscience becomes accustomed to its new “muscles.”  Virtue take time to build – that’s what your conscience is building – virtue.  Grace is like the spiritual spinach to your soul’s Popeye.   Virtue is the name of the muscle you are building.   Vice is what you are trying to rid yourself of – the toxin that is poison to your spiritual muscle growth.  Vice is what weakens us into sin.  In some cases gossip is more of a vice – in order to be a mortal sin an offense must be a serious matter, you must know its wrong, and you must engage in it willingly. Circumstantially, gossip may not fall into the category of a mortal sin if you didn’t know it was a serious offense against God and others.  But now you have read this post, and now you know it is serious – so you have no excuse!

Blaise Pascal once said, “”I maintain that, if everyone knew what others said about him, there would not be four friends in the world.”   It’s up to us to prove him wrong.  Its starts with each and every one of us.  We must resist the urge to slander others with our words – to verbally kill them.  We must lovingly assist our friends and family to recognize how they may be unwittingly engaging in gossip.  We must build up the Kingdom of God, by not tearing each other down.  It starts with you.  I leave you with this thought from St. Paul to the Philippians:

Finally brothers, [sisters] whatever is TRUE, whatever is HONORABLE, whatever is JUST, whatever is PURE, whatever is LOVELY, whatever is GRACIOUS,  if there is any EXCELLENCE and if there is anything worthy of PRAISE,  think about these things.  Phil 4:8

Until next time, May God Bless your beautiful feminine hearts.

(This post is the first in a 3 part series).

Works Consulted:

1)  2000 joint Statement from the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Academy of Child and Adolescent Behavior, qtd in: Plugged In Online, 20th Anniversary Magazine pg 8, Courtesy of Focus on the Family and Thriving Family Magazine, November/December 2010

2)  http://www.purehope.net/statisticspornography.asp

3) http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall04/fernandez/stats.html

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A PERSONal Choice?

This last week has left me pondering the incredible impact that the contraceptive mentality has had, both on our society and, more specifically, on the hearts of women.  We truly do live in a contraceptive culture.  My last post generated quite a bit of discussion on various social media sites.  A common theme that accompanied most, if not all, of the criticism was that both abortion and contraception simply couldn’t both be bad for women – “women deserve at least one – how else will they keep from having unwanted children?”  “How else will the world be spared from an explosion of unwanted children destroying our society and ruining our lives?”

This mentality – this idea that has pervaded our collective cultural mindset – is poisonous to women!  My dear readers, we have been poisoned!  We have recently discussed how several different scientific, unbiased studies worldwide have concluded that both abortion and birth control increase a woman’s risk of developing Breast Cancer.  (see Birth Control, Breast Cancer, and the Exploitation of Women for the full article and a list of sources consulted.)  In my opinion this new research should make any woman’s blood boil.  After being told for years and years that abortion and contraception are safe and that they do not have a relationship to cancer, it turns out that, well, in fact they do, and now there is irrefutable scientific evidence to back it up. Yet, instead of being mad at those who have pulled the wool over the eyes of millions of women, the anger I have encountered has been directed at those (myself included) who suggest that perhaps this scientific evidence needs to be taken seriously  – that abortion and contraception aren’t as good for women as we have been told.  Why does this assertion make so many women bristle?  Why does this suggestion make so many women angry?

I think that question deserves some scrutiny, and I am all too happy to comply.

Since its modern mass-incarnation in pill form, contraception has had to be “sold” to women.  It is, after all, a product.  This “marketing”  has taken different forms over the years, and has reached incredible proportions.  Girls are “marketed to” in their classrooms, on TV, the internet, billboards, and in the doctor’s office.  (Next time you go to an OB/GYN’s office just look around – it full of ‘soft advertisements’ for contraception – right down to the pen you sign in with, and the covers on the stirrups.)  Marketing is a funny thing.  Do it long enough and do it effectively and the people you are marketing to will become convinced that they need your product.

So, when it comes to the Truth about contraception why have women become more likely to “kill the messenger” (metaphorically speaking) than to reject the message?  Because women have internalized the message.  Women today have been conditioned from their early days of puberty to believe that birth control is responsible, necessary, liberating, and essential to womanhood.  No wonder so many women balk at the suggestion that birth control could be bad for them!  No wonder so many women are insulted at the insinuation that it is not necessary!  And no wonder a large portion of women have no idea that there are safer, easier, greener, natural and equally effective methods of avoiding pregnancy!  They feel as though their very womanhood is being attacked!  No one, myself included, likes to be called irresponsible.  Millions of women across America truly believe that using birth control makes them responsible.  I applaud their desire to act responsibly.  The problem is, they have been lied to about what “being responsible” really means.  If you have been lied to it’s not your fault – its only your fault if you discover the lie and refuse to acknowledge the Truth.  It is only your fault if you are presented with evidence that suggests you  have bought into the lie, and you continue to ignore it.  You are only at fault if you refuse to make a truly informed decision.  Nowadays birth control is as ubiquitous as a pair of panty hose in the life of a woman.  Its expected.  Women, if they want to be truly responsible, need to understand how their bodies work, and what contraception actually does to them.  This means that women must first be open-minded enough to be willing to reject the premise that birth control is absolutely necessary to the modern woman.  This rejection requires women to look objectively at our contraceptive culture  and the impact that birth control has had on their lives and their bodies. (See the previous post for more on the effects of birth control on women’s health.)

This is not an easy thing to do.  To some women it is almost counterintuitive, so ingrained in their psyche is the contraceptive mentality.  As a woman, you encounter every day messages that tell you bad news about your body.  It becomes easy to view your body as a collection of problems that need to be managed or controlled.  Blame whoever you want – magazines, the media, hollywood, Planned Parenthood or Kim Kardashian, the Truth is we’ve all felt at one time or another that we have to constantly work against our bodies; our bodies are always causing us problems – zits, weight gain, wrinkles, flat hair, chipped nails, cellulite, and fertility.  We have been conditioned to believe that all of those things are bad, and that we need to control them.  The Truth is, one of those “problems” in the list, isn’t really a problem at all.  It’s a gift.  We just don’t see it that way – because we have literally been culturally conditioned not to.

Women have been sold a package deal of lies and misinformation.  It starts in school with the infamous “health class” where boys and girls are supposedly taught about their sexuality and how wonderful it is – except they tend to glean more “how to” out of the class than anything.  Instead of being taught that their bodies are wonderful, young women are taught that they are dangerous.  Fertility is a dangerous thing – it can cause you to get pregnant!  Therefore, you must “protect yourself” from your own fertility.  Think about the absurdity of that statement for a minute.  Of course fertility can cause you to get pregnant – that’s what fertility is!

Could you imagine if there was a pill you could take that made you never feel hungry?  You could eat and eat all day and never get full, never suffer the consequences that come from overeating.  After all, feeling full is a real drag – it means you have to stop eating, and some people really love to eat.  If there was a pill that let you ignore how your body was made you could feast all day long without dealing with the annoying consequence of being uncomfortably stuffed; you would finally, truly be free to live how you want.

Are you cringing?  Are you saying to yourself, “Why on earth would someone do that?  I mean take a pill just so you could eat all day because you like to eat and you don’t want to respect how your body was made (to feel full)?   Won’t there be serious consequences?  Won’t you suffer side effects?  Won’t that potentially cause health problems down the road?  How can it be healthy to ignore your body like that?  Who would do such a thing?”

The answer, dear reader, and I say this with extreme compassion, the answer is, if you are on birth control, you would.

The reality is, if you are on birth control, you are treating yourself and your body with the same disregard that our imaginary eater would be.  This is the crux of the issue.  Instead of learning how to work with their bodies, and how they must respect the awesome power of their fertility by exercising self-control, woman have been sold the idea  that their fertility is a drag on their ambitions and social lives, and therefore it must be controlled.   After all, how else will women be free to have sex whenever they want, without consequence?  How else will they be able to pursue their careers?  Isn’t this the hallmark of freedom and liberation?   The simple Truth is, no.  People are not meant to have unlimited sex, whenever and wherever they want.  We live in a culture of drive-thru sexuality.  Sex is seen as a right, not as a powerful privilege that requires responsibility, and a committed, sacramental relationship (ie: marriage).  In fact most people today think the only responsibility they have with regards to sex is to use some form of contraception.  Sex is supposed to have consequences!

“What?  Are you telling me that I shouldn’t be on contraception and that I’m just supposed to keep having babies?  That sure doesn’t seem responsible!  Or are you now going to tell me that I can only have sex when I am ready to get pregnant?  That sure doesn’t sound like fun! “

You’re right.  It doesn’t.  Remember I said that our fertility is powerful – and we should respect its power to literally create a new life.  I didn’t say that it means you can only have sex when you are ready to have a baby.  If only there was way to do both – without harming our bodies with unnecessary medications, gels, latex, or rubber.  But wait, there is; and sadly many women have never been taught, or have been misinformed about the beautiful way their bodies and their fertility cycle are designed.  Men (unless they suffer from infertility) are always fertile; but women, we have distinct periods of fertility, and distinct periods of infertility.   Contrary to what many women think, we are NOT always fertile.  Engaging in intercourse during times of infertility can NOT result in a pregnancy.  It is not biologically possible.  If you are avoiding pregnancy you CAN have sex without all the dangerous side effects of contraceptive use!  How do you know when you are fertile or infertile?  Your body gives you definitive clues.

When a woman is fertile her body does things that she can easily notice to prepare for a possible pregnancy.  After she has ovulated, her body gives her different signals that tell her she is no longer fertile – she has “missed the window.”  A woman can easily keep track of her fertility signals each monthly cycle and determine when she is or isn’t fertile.  Avoiding intercourse during her fertile days (and nights) is a healthy and truly responsible way to avoid pregnancy that lets a woman completely respect her beautiful, amazing body.

If this sounds too good to be true, I assure you, it isn’t.  If it sounds easy, I assure you, it is.  These methods of avoiding pregnancy, usually referred to collectively as NFP – Natural Family Planning, have been taught by the Catholic Church, well, implicitly, since Adam and Eve left the Garden.  It has been understood since humans began procreating that a woman’s fertility cycles can aid a couple in either achieving or avoiding a pregnancy.  Recently, completely secular organizations have come to understand the benefits of such a method.  In fact they have even given it a new name: The Fertility Awareness Method.  It was featured in Time Magazine’s dot-com edition just recently.  Regardless of what you want to call it, the list of benefits far outnumbers the dubious “benefits” of artificial contraception.   (Contrary to popular misconception, these methods, when used correctly, are JUST AS effective as the pill at preventing pregnancy.)

One of the most notable benefits is that  by respecting a woman’s body, and how she is created, a completely different cultural mindset takes hold.  It is a mindset fueled by respect – respect for women, respect for sexuality, and respect for life, respect for the Author of Life.  And this isn’t just limited to the woman either – couples who practice NFP report that they feel a deeper mutual respect for the awesome gift of their fertility, and that wives do not feel “used” by their husbands for sex.  Rather, they feel that their husbands appreciate their femininity.

In order for a woman to truly experience this, she first has to experience a paradigm shift – from the contraceptive culture to the culture of life.    The contraceptive paradigm ingrains in women the idea that their fertility is bad and must be controlled.  They need contraceptives to make their bodies bend to their whims.  Contraceptives are necessary to their lifestyle and sex comes without consequences.  When the contraception fails, and the woman finds herself pregnant, she turns to abortion to fix the “problem.”  A Contraceptive culture is a culture of negatives: fertility = bad, woman’s body = bad, pregnancy = bad, baby = bad.  It is a paradigm of fear.

On the other hand, the paradigm of the “Culture of Life”, one in which women respect their bodies and their fertility, is positive.  When a woman shifts her mindset to see her body and her fertility as good, she  respects herself, she understands the awesome power of her fertility,  and most interestingly, babies are not problems.  Abortion is not in the equation for the woman who truly understands the beauty and power of her fertility.  Because this mindset encourages respect for the way in which a woman was created, more often than not, a woman also comes to Trust in the One who created her so beautifully   – and His plans for her and her family. If a woman who was trying to avoid a pregnancy becomes pregnant while using the Fertility Awareness Method or NFP, she does not see the baby as a problem or a ‘failure’ of some sort.  Rather, she recognizes that her fertility is a good thing, and while she may not have practiced the method correctly, her body is doing something good.  Her body is working the way its supposed to.   This is the paradigm of positives: fertility = good, woman’s body = good, pregnancy = good, baby (even if unexpected) = good.   This is why so many couples who practice NFP or Fertility Awareness seem to have larger families.  Not because “it doesn’t work”, but rather because this method works so well, it produces a whole new paradigm – one in which children are welcomed!!

Now do you see the connection between contraception and abortion?  One is related to the other.  In fact, according to the overwhelmingly pro-choice Guttmacher Institute , the majority of women who have abortions got pregnant while they were on birth control. (1)  Many women incorrectly believe that contraceptive use reduces the need for abortions.  They think that they can be pro-contraception, but anti-abortion.  The reality is, both are products of the same cultural mindset – the contraceptive mentality that says a woman’s body is bad, her fertility is bad, and pregnancy is bad.  The commonality that both abortion and contraception have is that they ignore personhood.  They ignore the individual dignity of women, and the beautiful way their bodies are created, and they ignore the actual personhood of an unborn child.  To the contraceptive culture a baby is an unwanted problem that is expendable; a mistake that needs to be erased.  Is it a “Personal Choice?”  You bet it is – it’s all about personhood.  One mindset recognizes the personhood of the unborn, and one doesn’t, and the difference between the contraceptive culture and the culture of life is at the heart of it.

Which culture do you want to be a part of?

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For More Information on Natural Family Planning or the Fertility Awareness Method:

http://www.ccli.org/

http://www.creightonmodel.com/

http://www.fwhc.org/birth-control/fam.htm

Sources Consulted:

(1) http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

(2) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1930652_1930651_1930649,00.html

(3) http://www.nfpandmore.org/NOR%20March%2007.pdf

(4) http://www.womensmedcenter.com/faqs/default.asp#17

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