Many Americans have been astonished that anyone thinks contraception worth discussing at all. But perhaps the unambiguous good is not so unambiguous after all.
In a departure from the usual fare over at Business Insider, a column appeared last week entitled: "Time to admit it: The Catholic Church has always been right on birth control." Moral theology in the Business Insider?
Contraception was the hot topic in American politics these weeks, ever since the administration launched an egregious attack on religious liberty by mandating religious employers to purchase contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. According to U.S. President Barack Obama, if a Catholic soup kitchen serves a meal to a non-catholic poor person, it ceases to be a Catholic agency, and so must pay for the dishwasher's morning-after pill.
The President attempted a faux compromise last week, saying that neither employer nor employee will have to pay for contraception, sterilization and pharmacological abortion, because insurers will simply provide them for free. That bit of flimflammery defies common sense and the laws of economics, and will be thrown out by the courts just as soon as roughly a dozen state attorneys-general file the papers for their joint suit.
Leave all that aside though, and consider the extraordinary fact that there is a public discussion about contraception. The triumph of the sexual revolution has long meant that contraception defines our culture and is accepted as an unambiguous good. Indeed, our columnists at Business Insider are quick to point out that their editor thinks them barking mad for defending the Catholic teaching. They begin: "Painting the Catholic Church as 'out of touch' is like shooting fish in a barrel, what with the funny hats and gilded churches. And nothing makes it easier than the Church's stance against contraception."
The Catholic Church has been teaching that deliberately suppressing the procreative dimension of conjugal relations is immoral since long before anyone had invented a gun to shoot fish in a barrel with. And it's not quite fair to give Catholics all the credit for being right about this, as if it was some peculiar Catholic wisdom. Protestants and Jews and Muslims and pretty much every ethical tradition taught the same until the consensus began to break down in the mid-20th century. It's only now that the Catholic Church has cornered the market on contraception-is-not-fabulous-and-ought-to-be-free.
The New York Times made that clear in quoting last week the Rev. Debra W. Haffner, executive director of the Religious Institute, "a liberal interfaith group that works on sexuality issues." She explains: "The mainstream religious voice has supported contraception for decades, at least for the last 40 years." A theological opinion which stretches back to 1972? Goodness, that was even before Apple was founded. The mainstream religious voice is not quite as venerable as say, Calvin or Luther or the teaching of the apostles found in the Didache, but if the world began in 1968 and discovered sex soon thereafter, 40 years is as traditional as it gets.
An older view, representing the historic moral consensus, insisted that sex and the possibility of babies go together, and from that follows that sex and marriage go together, and parents and children go together. The sexual revolution sought to separate sex and babies, and from that was put asunder many things that were previously joined — love and sex, sex and marriage, parents and children. Indeed, we have arrived at the calamitous circumstance in which more than half of all children do not grow up living with both their parents. As a measure of civilizational failure, it is hard to beat that.
Forty-plus years into the sexual revolution, there is plenty of sex, but less enduring love, a demographic collapse, more fragile marriages, more fatherless families, the emergence of a "rape culture" on campus, more sexually transmitted diseases, an infertility epidemic and rampant degradation of both women and men in advertising and ubiquitous porn. The spiritual outlook of the contraceptive culture fundamentally separates present enjoyment from future responsibility. It is any wonder that such societies loot the future to pay for present benefits? Obama's mandate carries the logic of contraception to the end; the most indebted nation in history mandating benefits for which, fantastically, no one has to pay — one nation infertile, with license and contraception for all.
Many Americans have been astonished that anyone thinks contraception worth discussing at all. But perhaps the unambiguous good is not so unambiguous after all. The culture is broken, and therefore the reigning cultural orthodoxy needs a little dissent. The historic role of the Christian tradition has been to provide it.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "What contraception has wrought." National Post, (Canada) February 16, 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 2012 National Post
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