Contraception as Intrinsically Wrong but Not Gravely Wrong
This post develops my previous post in which I distinguished being instrinsically wrong from being gravely, or seriously, wrong. I speculate judging contraceptive coitus of a married couple as intrinsically wrong but not, in general, gravely wrong. I am a Catholic. But what I write here is definitely not Catholic teaching. The thesis of marital contaception as only a venial sin is only presented for consideration.
An intrinsically wrong act is morally wrong regardless of the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and consequences of its performance. The gravity of an act can be mitigated by the intention of the actor, circumstances in which it is performed and the consequences of the performance of the act. The mitigating factors are not excuses for the wrong act although they may be considerations for mitigating punishment. I have not yet discovered a precise way of distinguishing gravely wrong from not being gravely wrong.
A paradigm distinguishing an intrinsically wrong act from a gravely wrong act is shoplifting a candy bar from a UDF convenience store and confusing a clerk at an AT&T store to walk away with a $500 cell phone. For theft the gravity mitigating factor is frequently the monetary value of the stolen item. I recall reading, once, that $25 marked the difference between a morally sinful theft and a venially sinful theft. That distinctiion seemed arbitrary to me.
Intrinsic wrongness is determined theoretically. If the theoretical determination is clearly developed, it is a deductive argument from theoretical premisses. Consider, for instance, a moral judgment against contraception.
A basic good of coitus is conception.
Coitus is a morally significant act.
It is always wrong to inhibit a basic good of a morally significant act.
Contraception inhibits the basic good of coitus.
Therefore, contraception is always wrong.
The circumstance of the contraception being an act of a married couple with children and planing to have more children in a year or so does not alter the theoretically determined judgment that the act is immoral. Theoretically, it is on the “wrong side” of being right.
A judgment that the act is gravely wrong – a mortal sin requires more than the moral theory presupposed in the above deductive argument. I do not think that secular reasoning alone can support a theoretical principle that all sexual wrongs are gravely wrong. The notion of moral gravity is not clear enough and there seems to be sexually wrong acts which are not gravely wrong, viz., contraception of marital coitus.
However, living a good life is more than avoiding gross immorality. Even on a secular level, we need to consider the damage to our character by habitual performance of wrong acts, albeit venial immoral acts. On a religious level, it is folly to think God is indifferent to regular intentional disobedience.
Could anyone be genuinely seeking holiness while intentionally choosing what is immoral in any degree?