Thursday, July 24, 2008

Humanae Vitae and The Catholic Church

Let me preface this post by saying it is a commentary on one of the most well-argued articles I have read in a long, long time. So, skimming this post is not an option.

I have often said that once contraception is thoroughly examined, and when reason is used to examine the arguments for it, there is not one single pro-contraception argument that has a leg to stand on.

Good for women - No. The opposite.
Good for marriage - No. The opposite.
Reduces abortion - No. The opposite.
Better sex - No. The opposite.

These arguments, and more, fail the test every time. Furthermore, I have only found a few reasons that people ultimately still use contraception once they know the truth. These include:
-Lack of faith

What a sorry lot of excuses.

There has been a lot written and many books filled on this subject, yet most Catholics still don't know much about the subject and most life in their "cafeteria catholicism" very comfortably - because ignorance is bliss.

For all of you who read this, I highly recommend a recent article in First Things, entitled The Vindication of Humanae Vitae by Mary Eberstadt. It is a masterpiece. It thoroughly demolishes the arguments I list above using secular and anti-Catholic sources of data that show that contraceptive sex is exactly what Paul VI claimed it was in Humanae Vitae. While I have posted short answers to the questions about contraception, Eberstadt does the necessary background research to make the argument bullet-proof. It is a study in the proper use of the rhetorical argument.

Here is a sampling of the argument. I will begin by showing part of what she does with the secular data.

And therein lies an irony within an irony. Although it is largely Catholic thinkers who have connected the latest empirical evidence to the defense of Humanae Vitae’s predictions, during those same forty years most of the experts actually producing the empirical evidence have been social scientists operating in the secular realm. As sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox emphasized in a 2005 essay: “The leading scholars who have tackled these topics are not Christians, and most of them are not political or social conservatives. They are, rather, honest social scientists willing to follow the data wherever it may lead.”

Consider, as Wilcox does, the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof. In a well-known 1996 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Akerlof explained in the language of modern economics why the sexual revolution—contrary to common prediction, especially prediction by those in and out of the Church who wanted the teaching on birth control changed—had led to an increase in both illegitimacy and abortion. In another work published in the Economic Journal ten years ago, he traced the empirical connections between the decrease in marriage and married fatherhood for men—both clear consequences of the contraceptive revolution—and the simultaneous increase in behaviors to which single men appear more prone: substance abuse, incarceration, and arrests, to name just three.

Along the way, Akerlof found a strong connection between the diminishment of marriage on the one hand and the rise in poverty and social pathology on the other. He explained his findings in nontechnical terms in Slate magazine: “Although doubt will always remain about what causes a change in social custom, the technology-shock theory does fit the facts. The new reproductive technology was adopted quickly, and on a massive scale. Marital and fertility patterns changed with similar drama, at about the same time.”

To these examples of secular social science confirming what Catholic thinkers had predicted, one might add many more demonstrating the negative effects on children and society. The groundbreaking work that Daniel Patrick Moynihan did in 1965, on the black family, is an example—along with the critical research of psychologist Judith Wallerstein over several decades on the impact of divorce on children; Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s well-known work on the outcomes of single parenthood for children; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur’s seminal book, Growing Up with a Single Parent; and David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America, another lengthy summarization of the bad empirical news about family breakup.

But, as she notes, not even this evidence has change many minds.

Who could deny that the predictions of Humanae Vitae and, by extension, of Catholic moral theology have been ratified with data and arguments that did not even exist in 1968? But now comes the question that just keeps on giving. Has this dramatic reappraisal of the empirically known universe led to any secular reappraisals, however grudging, that Paul VI may have gotten something right after all? The answer is manifestly that it has not. And this is only the beginning of the dissonance that surrounds us in 2008.

She then uses the feminists' arguments against themselves, because even they cannot deny the obvious. This is very good stuff...

Consider just what we have been told by the endless books on the topic over the years. If feminists married and had children, they lamented it. If they failed to marry or have children, they lamented that, too. If they worked outside the home and also tended their children, they complained about how hard that was. If they worked outside the home and didn’t tend their children, they excoriated anyone who thought they should. And running through all this literature is a more or less constant invective about the unreliability and disrespect of men.

The signature metaphors of feminism say everything we need to know about how happy liberation has been making these women: the suburban home as concentration camp, men as rapists, children as intolerable burdens, fetuses as parasites, and so on. These are the sounds of liberation? Even the vaunted right to abortion, both claimed and exercised at extraordinary rates, did not seem to mitigate the misery of millions of these women after the sexual revolution.

Then she turns an eye toward pornography.

To these and other examples of how feminist-minded writers have become inadvertent witnesses for the prosecution of the sexual revolution, we might add recent public reflection on the Pill’s bastard child, ubiquitous pornography.

“The onslaught of porn,” one social observer wrote, “is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.” And perhaps most shocking of all, this—which with just a little tweaking could easily have appeared in Humanae Vitae itself: “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.”

This was not some religious antiquarian. It was Naomi Wolf—Third Wave feminist and author of such works as The Beauty Myth and Promiscuities, which are apparently dedicated to proving that women can tomcat, too. Yet she is now just one of many out there giving testimony, unconscious though it may be, to some of the funny things that happened after the Pill freed everybody from sexual slavery once and for all.

That there is no auxiliary literature of grievance for men—who, for the most part, just don’t seem to feel they have as much to grieve about in this new world order—is something else that Humanae Vitae and a few other retrograde types saw coming in the wake of the revolution. As the saying goes, and as many people did not stop to ask at the time, cui bono? Forty years later, the evidence is in. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver observed on Humanae Vitae’s thirtieth anniversary in 1998, “Contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree—from responsibility for their sexual aggression.” Will any feminist who by 2008 disagrees with that statement please stand up?

I want to point out one statement here again - "sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so."

She then turns her attention toward the resulting disintegration of the Anglican communion, who first allowed contraception in 1930 and is currently imploding.
By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members—married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.
But, not to be outdone. The best argument is saved for last and is saved for Catholics. Please read carefully - I will emphasize some parts myself.

As with the other ironies, it helps here to have a soft spot for absurdity. In their simultaneous desire to jettison the distasteful parts of Catholicism and keep the more palatable ones, American Catholics have done something novel and truly amusing: They have created a specific catalogue of complaints that resembles nothing so much as a Catholic version of the orphan with chutzpah.

Thus many Catholics complain about the dearth of priests, all the while ignoring their own responsibility for that outcome—the fact that few have children in numbers large enough to send one son to the priesthood while the others marry and carry on the family name. They mourn the closing of Catholic churches and schools—never mind that whole parishes, claiming the rights of individual conscience, have contracepted themselves out of existence. They point to the priest sex scandals as proof positive that chastity is too much to ask of people—completely ignoring that it was the randy absence of chastity that created the scandals in the first place.

In fact, the disgrace of contemporary American Catholicism—the many recent scandals involving priests and underage boys—is traceable to the collusion between a large Catholic laity that wanted a different birth-control doctrine, on the one hand, and a new generation of priests cutting themselves a different kind of slack, on the other. “I won’t tattle on my gay priest if you’ll give me absolution for contraception” seems to have been the unspoken deal in many parishes since Humanae Vitae.

A more obedient laity might have wondered aloud about the fact that a significant number of priests post-Vatican II seemed more or less openly gay. A more obedient clergy might have noticed that plenty of Catholics using artificial contraception were also taking Communion. It is hard to believe that either new development—the widespread open rebellion against church sexual teachings by the laity, or the concomitant quiet rebellion against church sexual teachings by a significant number of priests—could have existed without the other.

During Benedict’s recent visit to the United States, one heard a thousand times the insistence that Humanae Vitae somehow sparked a rebellion or was something new under the sun. As Peter Steinfels once put the over-familiar party line, “The pope’s 1968 encyclical and the furor it created continue to polarize the American church.” On this account, everything was somehow fine until Paul VI refused to bend with the times—at which point all hell broke loose.

A brilliant argument. A sad and true conclusion. The reaction of the Catholic Church to the truth brought the problems we see in our Church today on ourselves.

Time for sackcloth and ashes.


Solange said...

Global aging: the demographic winter is coming.

Aging workforce in the USA.

Louis XIV : Après moi le déluge.
Good information on the subject. Welcome for a visit…

Have a nice day.
Solange Miller
P.S. Also new website prowomanprolife(dot)org

John said...

40 years in a would hope that we could help the Truth to be brought forth. One family, one couple, one person at a time this mus be brought to change.

All of the ills are connected and all are curable, if we only press on.

"The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will." - Romans 8:26-27

GodAlwaysWatches said...

How does one learn this kind of articulation - very modern in lingo yet carries the weight of Tradition? It shows who really are liberated, the ones who have been persistently obedient to Church teachings or the ones who thought they were daring by rebelling!

You can almost tell by gesture during the Mass. When the priest says, "The Lord be with you" and the laity responds, "and also with you". Most likely those who spread their arms like the priest don't know anything about motu propio; the ones who keep their hands together like the Blessed Mother are well cathecized and are the ones who know what's going on in the Spiritual Warfare.

Marcel said...

I wouldn't go quite that far with the generalizations, but your point about catechesis is well-taken.