choosing what to believe

As Catholics, particularly those in this country but also around the world, it appears that we have entered into a near permanent state of denial or perhaps we are merely attempting to delude ourselves. But then again it could be that we have simply switched onto autopilot and are coasting through life caring little for what it truly means or what is required of us to identify ourselves as Christian and Catholic.

a la carte

a la carte

How else can one explain why so many carry the notion—common among a majority of both Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and non-believers alike—that faith and morality are no longer objective gifts from God but are subjective and relative matters determined by the desires and whims of each individual? How is it that after two millennia Christ’s commandments and teachings passed on by him to his church through his apostles and their successors (the magisterium) are now considered by so many to be available à la carte: take what you like and find agreeable, discard or ignore what you do not; approaches to which a majority of Catholics mistakenly believe acceptable while remaining faithful to the Catholic Church and her teachings?

But then again, “ignorance is bliss” or is that “ignorance is nine-tenths of the law”? Try that last one on the next time you are caught speeding, “But officer, I had no idea there was a speed limit, when did that happen?” and see how that works out for you.

After a recent article[1] I received an email from a reader with a dissenting opinion which I believe illustrates what has become a growing and troubling misconception among many Catholics on what it means and is required in order to be a faithful practicing Catholic. The writer and I have communicated in the past, specifically on the subject of evolution, and while we may find ourselves on opposite sides of the fence at times, I always welcome his thoughts and the fact that he is willing to take the time to communicate them with me.

Deacon Chuck,

I have not corresponded with you in quite some time regarding your column in the parish bulletin which speaks to the fact that I am often in agreement with your ideas. We are certainly entitled to our personal opinions on the issue of contraception and I might even agree with you, but in connecting contraception with the extinction of the human race you are defending the indefensible. CS Lewis did not show prescience or clarity of mind in arguing against the use of contraception and neither did you. He showed ignorance. In fact your use of the word prescience is rather ironic. CS Lewis was speaking pre science indeed. Armed with scientific knowledge of evolution and the survival of species it is quite possible to show actual physical evidence that over population and pollution will lead to extinction much sooner than giving power to women through the use of safe, effective birth control. That is a great gift of scientific theories and research that has been proven time and time again. It is impossible to argue against them with any credibility what so ever. The Catholic Church does not even try to do that. Their argument against giving women control over their own bodies is based on dogma alone, not scientific evidence or moral clarity. And many Catholics, especially women disagree with you. Many of them are in church with you on Sundays. It would be wise on the part of our church to respect their voice on the subject since it can be morally justified much easier than yours. Arguments against contraception are fine with many people even if they do not make sense because they can be justifiably ignored. What cannot be ignored is an argument that equates contraception with the extinction of species. Given that fact that every living thing on this planet is a gift from God, it is dangerous to imply that it is ok to over populate the planet to the point of extinction of any living creature. Wars are fought and ecosystems destroyed because of selfishness and competition for natural resources directly related to over population. Contraception could be considered an effective tool against that kind of greed. Scientific progress has allowed consenting adults to express love and affection through sexual contact. There is no law, natural or otherwise that says an expression of love should lead to unintended pregnancies. And there is nothing paradoxical about your argument. It is simply misguided. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to respond to your thoughts and ideas.

The letter contains so much that bears comment that it is difficult to decide how to respond, but as I must begin somewhere I will do so by offering a few thoughts upon what C. S. Lewis was speaking concerning contraception and the abolition of man. While I intend to write further on this very subject in another article or two, I believe it is important to this discussion to clearly articulate as precisely as possible what Lewis was attempting to describe. In cases such as this I highly encourage the reader to pick up a copy of The Abolition of Man and read what Lewis himself had to say on the matter. Although a small book and a quick read, it is quite literally packed with wisdom and insight to which I cannot hope to do true justice.

Lewis begins his work with the following statement: “’Man’s conquest of nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science.” He ends his opening paragraph with a question: “In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?” He makes it clear that he has no desire to disparage all that is really beneficial in the process or of the devotion and self-sacrifice that has gone into making man’s conquest of Nature possible. The primary thrust of his work is to show how inevitably (and verifiably so) power tends to gravitate to the privileged few, while invariably to the detriment of the unfortunate many. What is of special interest is the rather unique perspective Lewis provides in raising awareness of the inherent dangers that come from blind allegiance to the ‘progress of applied science’.

As with many subjects, which carry with them no small amount of controversy, Lewis’ use of the word ‘abolition’ and my own unfortunate use of the word ‘extinction’ bear certain connotations for which further explanation is required. I will admit here and now that my use of the word “extinction” was perhaps inappropriate and inaccurately applied to my article, inferring meaning to what Lewis wrote that could lead the reader astray. I can only ask for your mercy and forgiveness. As for Lewis’ use of the word ‘abolition’ a brief explanation should suffice to show relevancy.

No matter whether you subscribe to the notion that man has evolved from some other form of life—and there certainly are considered reasons to assume it might well be possible (I am want to say even probable to some extent) and the Catholic Church does not object to such a possibility—there should be little if any dispute that by our own hands we have impacted and continue to alter the human evolutionary chain far faster and in ways inconceivable no more than a century past.

Neither Lewis nor I would suggest that much of the advances that have come about through man’s scientific endeavors which have provided greater longevity, better health, restorative procedures and life-saving devices among many other technologies are necessarily or intrinsically bad, yet coincidently neither do such advances positively advance the nature of man. As often occurs when man intervenes in the natural course of nature there are unintended consequences and undesirable results. “God created man in his image, in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”[2] Please note that God did not create two men or two women but a male and a female because God knew that only through the union of man and woman could the earth be filled and subdued. “God blessed them, saying: be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it.[3]

Each step we take in the evolutionary process transforms and mutates until what once was no longer is; case in point, gender modification. Whether by natural or human selection, the first evolving over eons, the second over some finite number of generations, Lewis’ point was that man would no longer be man as God created but as man desires. Man would have, at his core, fundamentally and irrevocably abolished man, once made in the image of God, to something entirely and substantially new. The question we should be asking ourselves is whether such power is necessary, right, or good. I would suggest that we are treading on sacred ground and should take great care in any attempt to ‘improve’ what God has designed.

I need to take a moment or two to write of a different but related and equally relevant topic: the impact of technology—the output of the applied sciences—on our lives. I spent over thirty years in the technology field and therefore believe I understand the impact, both good and not so good, on our society, our culture, and yes even our faith. And while, through that experience, I consider myself more than qualified to discuss how technology has changed the human condition, I believe Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has already stated quite eloquently all that I could hope to say. What follows is a portion of a speech he delivered on March 22, 2016 at a forum on the campus of Brigham Young University:[4]

Technology has played a big role – the decisive role — in changing our economic lives, often for the better. But it’s also changed how Americans think. To put it another way: We use our tools, but our tools also use us. In half a century, the United States has gone from a manufacturing economy based on production, to a knowledge economy based on consumption. The impact on our imaginations and behaviors has been huge. Production is a joint affair. It requires guilds, unions and corporations. It needs assembly lines, heavy industry and communities. Consumption is a private affair. It requires only the self.

This difference between production and consumption is what sociologist Zygmunt Bauman calls the gulf between solid and liquid modern life. Older, “solid” societies based on production find their security in ownership, delayed gratification and rational organization. They seek methodical progress, and they put a high value on durable goods. “Liquid,” consumer-based societies – creatures of the tech revolution and its rapid rate of change — feed on “incessant new beginnings” and experiences.

What that means is this: In liquid, consumer-based life, the biggest fear is “drag coefficient” – the burden of having to live with obsolete or bad product choices. Inevitably, this approach to life shapes personal relations. As Bauman notes, “Once the pattern to reject and replace an object of consumption . . . is extended to partnership relations,” the partners themselves become disposable consumer objects.[5] In this sense, nothing is more liquid than no-fault divorce, which is now common across the country.

I could go on with a list of examples for a long time. But before we turn to the last part of my remarks, I want to note just one more factor that divides the America we now have, from the America we remember – or at least we think we remember. That factor, of course, is sex sex and relationships, sex and marriage, sex and family, sex and human meaning.

To borrow a thought from C. S. Lewis, the human person is a kind of “amphibian” – a creature made by God for this world and the next; a blending of spirit and flesh that gives the body special dignity. The body is not modeling clay. It’s not raw material at the service of our wills, and there’s something profoundly sad in watching a person mutilate his or her body in the hope of creating a new identity. The body has a purpose. Our sexuality is ordered to creating and raising new life, and to the mutual support of a man and woman in a covenant of love.

My point is this: Sexual confusion isn’t unique to our age, but the scope of it is. No society can sustain itself for long if marriage and the family fall apart on a mass scale. And that’s exactly what’s happening as we gather here today. The Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision approving same-sex marriage last June was a legal disaster. But it didn’t happen in a vacuum. It fits very comfortably with trends in our culture that go back many decades, even before the 1960s. It’s useful to read or reread Wilhelm Reich’s book from 1936, The Sexual Revolution. Reich argues that a real revolution can only be made at the level of sexual freedom. And it needs to begin by wiping away institutions like marriage, family and traditional sexual morality.

What’s interesting about Reich’s work is that, 80 years ago, he saw the United States as the most promising place for that kind of revolution to happen, despite its Puritan history.[6] The reason is simple. Americans have a deep streak of individualism, a distrust of authority and a big appetite for self-invention. As religion loses its hold on people’s behavior, all of these instincts accelerate. The trouble is that once the genie is out of the bottle, sexual freedom goes in directions and takes on shapes that nobody imagined. And ultimately it leads to questions about who a person is and what it means to be human.

What Archbishop Chaput had to say is of course correct, especially with regard to sexuality and its true purpose. Sex has become a recreational activity, a meaningless act whereupon we can derive some momentary pleasure at little or no risk and no commitment to another beyond the moment. Through the ‘progress of applied science‘, contraceptives and abortifacients are widely available and easily obtained; worst case, should an unwanted pregnancy result a ‘legal’ abortion can be performed. The dissenting writer substantiates this point to near perfection by stating that “Scientific progress has allowed consenting adults to express love and affection through sexual contact.

It seems unusually clear to me that what scientific progress has wrought coupled with the ongoing sexual revolution is the transformation, or rather devolution—at least in the area of sexuality—of man into little more than a unthinking, rutting animal. There is a natural purpose for sex and it isn’t and has never been solely for pleasure so casually obtained. Conflating love and affection with sex is wrong, just as turning sexual intercourse into a recreational activity is wrong. No amount of wishful thinking will alter the fact that the purpose for sexual intercourse is procreation. This is not my opinion but should be obvious to anyone with at least a minimal understanding of human physiology.

Here I would like to return to the dissenting email and respond specifically to what we read there. After the beginning sentence we read: “We are certainly entitled to our personal opinions on the issue of contraception and I might even agree with you, but in connecting contraception with the extinction of the human race you are defending the indefensible.”

Now I have already admitted to the unfortunate use of the word ‘extinction’ and offered a reasoned explanation for Lewis’ use of ‘abolition’ so I will add nothing further other than to point out that neither Lewis nor I would suggest or imply any connection between contraception and the ‘extinction’ of the human race. To do so would most assuredly be ‘indefensible’. I must object however to the assertion that what I wrote was, in any way, shape, or form, intended to be ‘my opinion’ on the issue of contraception. I will have more to say on contraception further along but will simply state for now that it is not ‘my opinion’ but several millennia of Church doctrine that codifies contraception as an ‘intrinsic evil’, both objectively and morally wrong.

The dissent continues with “CS Lewis did not show prescience or clarity of mind in arguing against the use of contraception and neither did you. He showed ignorance.” While left unstated, the implication is clear that the writer believes that Lewis’ ignorance rests upon my shoulders as well. I will couch my response by strongly recommending a thorough and thoughtful reading of The Abolition of Man and doing the same with my article. While I could offer a suggestion as to where the ignorance better rests, I will refrain from doing so for brevities sake.

Given our past conversations on the subject, I was not in the least surprised at the scientific and evolutionary mention: “Armed with scientific knowledge of evolution and the survival of species it is quite possible to show actual physical evidence that over population and pollution will lead to extinction much sooner than giving power to women through the use of safe, effective birth control.” I must admit to being somewhat amused by the conflating of over population and pollution with the use of birth control. While there is much that seems highly debatable and tenuous in this statement I will refrain from doing so as much of it is not germane to the topic at hand and is unusually open to unreasoned debate and heated argument.

I must confess that the following is a bit mystifying but I will endeavor to slog through it as best I can. “That is a great gift of scientific theories and research that has been proven time and time again. It is impossible to argue against them with any credibility what so ever.” It is difficult to understand what the writer intended here as no specifics have been provided upon which one could agree or disagree. Generally, once a theory has been proven and the proof independently verified further proof is not required or necessary. Thus, “has been proven time and time again” is unduly repetitive. Likewise, the impossibility of credible argument is meaningless in the absence of specific proven theories.

Without revisiting ancient (to the writer and myself) argument regarding theories, I will only reiterate what I have said before: a theory is based upon a set of hypotheses which must be assumed to be true for the theory to be true. Should one or more hypotheses prove to be untrue, the theory likewise is adjudged to be untrue.

Some theories can be empirically proven to be true; and on occasion, such theories will continue to be referred to as a theory. There are also many theories which cannot now or ever be empirically proven. Why? Because the hypotheses upon which the theory rests cannot be reproduced under controlled repeatable conditions. Take for example the Big Bang theory which attempts to explain the creation of the universe.  No one can reproduce the big bang and stick around for 13.7 Billion years to watch it unfold in order to prove the theory. The same holds true for the theory of evolution and the survival of the species previously mentioned.

What should be understood is that ten million scientists might agree to a theory’s conclusions but their agreement doesn’t prove a thing. In fact, more often than not those scientists nodding their heads so vigorously in affirmation of a theory have found themselves eating a large portion of crow when subsequent evidence finds one or more hypothesis to be false.

Good scientists will readily admit to the inherent weaknesses of unproven theories. For instance, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg agrees to a certain ambiguity found in the widely accepted theory called “the standard model”, a theory “more or less the same as what is sometimes called the ‘big bang’ theory, but supplemented with a much more specific recipe for the contents of the universe.” As Weinberg explains “The standard model … is not the most satisfying theory imaginable of the origin of the universe. …there is an embarrassing vagueness about the very beginning, the first hundredth of a second or so. Also, there is the unwelcome necessity of fixing initial conditions, especially the initial thousand-million-to-one ratio of photons to nuclear particles. We would prefer a greater sense of logical inevitability in the theory.”[7]

So now we arrive at the heart of the dissent. The writer states, “The Catholic Church does not even try to do that. Their argument against giving women control over their own bodies is based on dogma alone, not scientific evidence or moral clarity.” I find it both amusing and utterly fascinating whenever someone attempts to set the Catholic Church in direct opposition to science. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens have enjoyed making the claim (fallacious as it well is) that religion and science do not mix, that there is some inherent conflict between them.

Why do I find myself amused? For the simple reason that the Catholic Church has never been opposed to scientific endeavors, in fact it has more often than not led the way in scientific discoveries and the development of such theories as the Big Bang.[8]

Dissecting this may well prove to be an exercise fraught with great frustration but I will give it my best effort. The claim of “giving women control over their own bodies” is misleading and inaccurate, and it demonstrably mischaracterizes the human (in this specific case, female) body. Our bodies are not property, machinery, technology, or fungible goods over which anyone (self or other) may ‘control’. The Catholic Church has never suggested, supported, or promoted any position or doctrine which would permit or condone ‘control’ over one’s body, and that includes the person of the body.  Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church teaches that we are each made in the image and likeness of God, created by and for God, and therefore commended to maintain the same dignity for the body as is owed to God.

The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.[9]

In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” dignifies the spiritual principle in man.[10]

The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:

Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.[11]     

The Catholic Church doesn’t argue either for or against anyone having ‘control’ over their own body since control implies and requires ownership along with the power to do whatever we want with and to our bodies. We cannot ‘control’ what we do not own or hold title; we can only grant it the respect and dignity owed to the human person. We must respect the dignity of the human person because we are made in the image and likeness of God and therefore owe our bodies the same respect and dignity owed to our Creator.

As for the assertion that the Catholic Church’s anti-control stance against women “is based on dogma alone,” it would do well to first clearly and accurately understand the difference between doctrine and dogma and what is required of the Catholic faithful. With respect to doctrine, the Catholic Church differs from our Protestant brothers and sisters in that for the majority of Protestant denominations doctrine is contained in ‘sola scriptura’ that is within Scripture alone.

Doctrine, for our purposes here, may be defined as the teachings of the Catholic Church in matters of faith and morals; Catholic Church doctrine is derived from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the teachings of the magisterium, consisting of the bishops in union with the pope. All Catholics are directed to follow and adhere to the doctrine of the Church.

Dogma is more narrowly defined as that part of doctrine which has been divinely revealed and which the Church has formally defined and declared to be believed as revealed.

The Church’s magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.[12]

It should be made absolutely and perfectly clear that “scientific evidence” holds no standing when determining church doctrine pertaining to matters of faith and morals. Science cannot provide evidence concerning morality or faith; that is to say science cannot be called upon to serve as the final arbiter in such matters. God, represented by his Church here on earth, makes those decisions.

As for moral clarity, what the writer implies or suggests is that morality is relative, defined by each person to be what he or she desires it to be. Relative morality is nonsense and in and of itself completely devoid of clarity. It can and does produce only chaos, for it subscribes to the whims and vagaries of individual desires, wishes, and preferences.

With respect to the Catholic Church’s position on birth control and contraception there is absolutely no ambiguity as to either her position or the sources from which such a position has been derived. The following is a reprint from Catholic Answers.[13] It has been reviewed, found free of doctrinal or moral errors, and thus has been granted the Imprimatur by the Bishop of San Diego and the Catholic Church.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued his landmark encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Latin, “Human Life”), which reemphasized the Church’s constant teaching that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence. 

Contraception is “any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (Humanae Vitae 14). This includes sterilization, condoms and other barrier methods, spermicides, coitus interruptus (withdrawal method), the Pill, and all other such methods. 

The Historic Christian Teaching

Few realize that up until 1930, all Protestant denominations agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching condemning contraception as sinful. At its 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church, swayed by growing social pressure[14], announced that contraception would be allowed in some circumstances. Soon the Anglican Church completely caved in, allowing contraception across the board. Since then, all other Protestant denominations have followed suit. Today, the Catholic Church alone proclaims the historic Christian position on contraception. 

Evidence that contraception is in conflict with God’s laws comes from a variety of sources that will be examined in this tract. 

Nature

Contraception is wrong because it’s a deliberate violation of the design God built into the human race, often referred to as “natural law.” The natural law purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure that sexual intercourse provides is an additional blessing from God, intended to offer the possibility of new life while strengthening the bond of intimacy, respect, and love between husband and wife. The loving environment this bond creates is the perfect setting for nurturing children. 

But sexual pleasure within marriage becomes unnatural, and even harmful to the spouses, when it is used in a way that deliberately excludes the basic purpose of sex, which is procreation. God’s gift of the sex act, along with its pleasure and intimacy, must not be abused by deliberately frustrating its natural end—procreation. 

Scripture

Is contraception a modern invention? Hardly! Birth control has been around for millennia. Scrolls found in Egypt, dating to 1900 B.C., describe ancient methods of birth control that were later practiced in the Roman empire during the apostolic age. Wool that absorbed sperm, poisons that fumigated the uterus, potions, and other methods were used to prevent conception. In some centuries, even condoms were used (though made out of animal skin rather than latex). 

The Bible mentions at least one form of contraception specifically and condemns it. Coitus interruptus, was used by Onan to avoid fulfilling his duty according to the ancient Jewish law of fathering children for one’s dead brother. “Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife he spilled the semen on the ground, lest he should give offspring to his brother. And what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he slew him also” (Gen. 38:8–10). 

The biblical penalty for not giving your brother’s widow children was public humiliation, not death (Deut. 25:7–10). But Onan received death as punishment for his crime. This means his crime was more than simply not fulfilling the duty of a brother-in-law. He lost his life because he violated natural law, as Jewish and Christian commentators have always understood. For this reason, certain forms of contraception have historically been known as “Onanism,” after the man who practiced it, just as homosexuality has historically been known as “Sodomy,” after the men of Sodom, who practiced that vice (cf. Gen. 19). 

Contraception was so far outside the biblical mindset and so obviously wrong that it did not need the frequent condemnations other sins did. Scripture condemns the practice when it mentions it. Once a moral principle has been established in the Bible, every possible application of it need not be mentioned. For example, the general principle that theft is wrong was clearly established in Scripture; but there’s no need to provide an exhaustive list of every kind of theft. Similarly, since the principle that contraception is wrong has been established by being condemned when it’s mentioned in the Bible, every particular form of contraception does not need to be dealt with in Scripture in order for us to see that it is condemned. 

Apostolic Tradition

The biblical teaching that birth control is wrong is found even more explicitly among the Church Fathers, who recognized the biblical and natural law principles underlying the condemnation. 

In A.D. 195, Clement of Alexandria wrote, “Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted” (The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2). 

Hippolytus of Rome wrote in 255 that “on account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful [certain Christian women who had affairs with male servants] want no children from slaves or lowborn commoners, [so] they use drugs of sterility or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered” (Refutation of All Heresies9:12). 

Around 307 Lactantius explained that some “complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power . . . or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife” (Divine Institutes 6:20). 

The First Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council and the one that defined Christ’s divinity, declared in 325, “If anyone in sound health has castrated himself, it behooves that such a one, if enrolled among the clergy, should cease [from his ministry], and that from henceforth no such person should be promoted. But, as it is evident that this is said of those who willfully do the thing and presume to castrate themselves, so if any have been made eunuchs by barbarians, or by their masters, and should otherwise be found worthy, such men this canon admits to the clergy” (Canon 1). 

Augustine wrote in 419, “I am supposing, then, although you are not lying [with your wife] for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility [oral contraceptives]” (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:15:17). 

The apostolic tradition’s condemnation of contraception is so great that it was followed by Protestants until 1930 and was upheld by all key Protestant Reformers. Martin Luther said, “[T]he exceedingly foul deed of Onan, the basest of wretches . . . is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a sodomitic sin. For Onan goes in to her; that is, he lies with her and copulates, and when it comes to the point of insemination, spills the semen, lest the woman conceive. Surely at such a time the order of nature established by God in procreation should be followed. Accordingly, it was a most disgraceful crime. . . . Consequently, he deserved to be killed by God. He committed an evil deed. Therefore, God punished him.” 

John Calvin said, “The voluntary spilling of semen outside of intercourse between man and woman is a monstrous thing. Deliberately to withdraw from coitus in order that semen may fall on the ground is doubly monstrous. For this is to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before he is born the hoped-for offspring.” 

John Wesley warned, “Those sins that dishonor the body are very displeasing to God, and the evidence of vile affections. Observe, the thing which he [Onan] did displeased the Lord—and it is to be feared; thousands, especially of single persons, by this very thing, still displease the Lord, and destroy their own souls.” (These passages are quoted in Charles D. Provan, The Bible and Birth Control, which contains many quotes by historic Protestant figures who recognize contraception’s evils.) 

The Magisterium

The Church also, fulfilling the role given it by Christ as the identifier and interpreter of apostolic Scripture and apostolic tradition, has constantly condemned contraception as gravely sinful. 

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI stated, “[W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” (HV 14). 

This was reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “[E]very action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil” (CCC 2370). “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means . . . for example, direct sterilization or contraception” (CCC 2399). 

The Church also has affirmed that the illicitness of contraception is an infallible doctrine: “The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity, it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life” (Vademecum for Confessors 2:4, Feb. 12, 1997). 

Human Experience

Pope Paul VI predicted grave consequences that would arise from the widespread and unrestrained use of contraception. He warned, “Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificially limiting the increase of children. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men—especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point—have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion” (HV 17). 

No one can doubt the fulfillment of these prophetic words. They have all been more than fulfilled in this country as a result of the widespread availability of contraceptives, the “free love” movement that started in the 1960s, and the loose sexual morality that it spawned and that continues to pervade Western culture. 

Indeed, recent studies reveal a far greater divorce rate in marriages in which contraception is regularly practiced than in those marriages where it is not. Experience, natural law, Scripture, Tradition, and the magisterium, all testify to the moral evil of contraception. 

Wishful Thinking

Ignoring the mountain of evidence, some maintain that the Church considers the use of contraception a matter for each married couple to decide according to their “individual conscience.” Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Church has always maintained the historic Christian teaching that deliberate acts of contraception are always gravely sinful, which means that it is mortally sinful if done with full knowledge and deliberate consent (CCC 1857). This teaching cannot be changed and has been taught by the Church infallibly. 

There is no way to deny the fact that the Church has always and everywhere condemned artificial contraception. The matter has already been infallibly decided. The so-called “individual conscience” argument amounts to “individual disobedience.” 

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Marie Stopes

Most likely few Americans would recognize or be familiar with Marie Stopes, although most would recognize Margaret Sanger. Marie Stopes was Sanger’s counterpart in the United Kingdom. Around the same time that Sanger organized Planned Parenthood, Stopes did much the same with Marie Stopes International. Between the two organizations seven million children are killed globally through abortion each year.

Stopes was a well-respected academic who one day heard a voice which she claimed was from God. According to her telling of it, God told her to tell the bishops of the Church of England that they were to change their teaching on birth control. In a letter to the bishops she wrote, “My Lords, I speak to you in the name of God. You are his priests. I am his prophet.” She also wrote that God had told her to tell them that they must teach their flocks that “the pure and holy sacrament of marriage may no longer be debased and befouled by the archaic ignorance of the centuries …”

Subsequently, she wrote a book which she entitled “A New Gospel to All Peoples: A Revelation of God Uniting Physiology and the Religions of Man.” In her book she claimed that God had told her that the message from St. Paul was outdated since it was then 1900 years old and should therefore be ignored. She further claimed that God told her sexual union was not for procreation but for pleasure, that couples should use the best means of birth control “placed at man’s service by Science.”

I would redirect the reader’s attention to the final paragraph above. Please take careful note of what it states: “The Catholic Church has always and everywhere condemned artificial contraception.” There is nothing ambiguous with that statement; contraception is condemned. Even more damning is the fact that “The matter has already been infallibly decided.” It cannot be altered, modified, changed, deleted, or ignored. For Catholics this means that dissenting opinions are without merit.

As for the statements that follow concerning the opinions held by many Catholics: “And many Catholics, especially women disagree with you.  Many of them are in church with you on Sundays. It would be wise on the part of our church to respect their voice on the subject since it can be morally justified much easier than yours. Arguments against contraception are fine with many people even if they do not make sense because they can be justifiably ignored,“ we now find ourselves back to my opening statements. Here I would argue, the writer has proved my case concerning the current state of the Catholic mind.

I will admit to complete agreement with the first sentence, with one exception. Yes—sadly many Catholics and almost certainly a large proportion of Catholic women disagree with—here is my one exception—the doctrine of the Catholic Church on birth control and contraception. I can only respond by asking, “So what is your point?” Far too many Catholics hold the mistaken notion that the Catholic Church is a social society whose members are free to decide what they believe and what they might choose to ignore. How many ways can I say “WRONG?”

While many may agree with “Arguments against contraception are fine with many people even if they do not make sense because they can be justifiably ignored,” their agreement does not change the facts. If the “Arguments against contraception” don’t make sense to them, Catholics cannot simply agree to disagree and ignore doctrine, especially doctrine declared infallible. To do so constitutes a deliberate and willful act of disobedience and a mortal sin.

God gave us the Ten Commandments and his only Son added to them. These are obligations placed upon each of us. They are not up for debate. They are required standards of moral behavior given by God to man and must be obeyed without amendment or equivocation.  This should be a no brainer. They are God’s laws not man’s.

So, what part of “commandment” do you not understand? God didn’t say, “Thou shalt not kill unless you really feel like it.” God didn’t say, “Keep holy the Sabbath unless you are too hung over or tired or whatever.” God didn’t say, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife unless she is just too hot to handle.” The last time I looked God was very clear on the ‘shalls’ and ‘shall nots’; I cannot recall a single ‘unless’. Please let me know when you find one.

The next few sentences in the dissenting email I choose to leave for another discussion as they are not directly germane to the issue of contraception and they read much too much like a diatribe or rant of personal opinion rather than a reasoned point of discussion. “What cannot be ignored is an argument that equates contraception with the extinction of species.  Given that fact that every living thing on this planet is a gift from God, it is dangerous to imply that it is ok to over populate the planet to the point of extinction of any living creature. Wars are fought and ecosystems destroyed because of selfishness and competition for natural resources directly related to over population. Contraception could be considered an effective tool against that kind of greed.”

I have already provided a response to the next sentence so I will skip to the remaining sentences of the email: “There is no law, natural or otherwise that says an expression of love should lead to unintended pregnancies. And there is nothing paradoxical about your argument.  It is simply misguided.” What shall I say here that I haven’t already said before?  Allow me to reiterate: conflating sexual intercourse with “an expression of love” is “simply misguided” and wrong.

Most of us who have lived more than say forty or fifty years can recall our mother asking, “If your friend told you to jump off a building would you do it?” A rhetorical question for sure but the message was clear: just because everyone else is doing something doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do.

We have, as a society, forgotten or ignored that message when it comes to sex. We have turned it into a recreational sport. We have conveniently forgotten its holy purpose, its only purpose: procreation. The deep and abiding love engendered by a man and a woman united in the bonds of holy matrimony and faithfully expressed by their mutual giving of self to the other in the intimacy of the conjugal act has been lost or deemed irrelevant. Love has been divorced from sex, leaving those who would engage in fornication performing nothing more than private porn.

No one, including Jesus, has ever promised that the road to heaven would be easy. Quite to the contrary, for Jesus said that we must first pick up our cross and follow him. And that will always be a heavy burden but shouldn’t heaven be worth any burden?

As Catholics we have a clear choice: we can choose to accept and live as God desires or we can choose to delude ourselves into believing that what God has ordained man can justifiably ignore. Catholics, who choose to delude themselves, who act with deliberate ignorance and willful disobedience in contravention to the doctrine of the church and the natural law of God, place themselves in a state of mortal sin, thereby dramatically increasing the risk of losing any opportunity to spend an eternity with God in heaven.

At the very least, anyone so inclined should seriously consider the cost and then ask whether it is truly worth the risk.

 


[1] Deacon Chuck Lanham, A Once And Future Paradox: On Becoming Extinct, #227, April 6, 2016.
[2] Gn 1:27.
[3] Gn 1:28.
[4] You may view the video stream of the Archbishop’s Forum Address in its entirety at Brigham Young University at the following link:  http://www.byutv.org/watch/d5048a54-b40a-4c99-88ab-5351031049aa/byu-forum-address-archbishop-charles-chaput-archdiocese-of-philadelphia-32216.
[5] Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life, Polity Press, Malden, MA, 2007, p. 29, 18, 21.
[6] See the discussion of Reich’s ideas and influence in Augusto Del Noce, The Crisis of Modernity, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, 2014, p. 216 and various.
[7] Steven Weinberg, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, Basic Books, Aug. 5, 2008.
[8] Georges Henri Joseph Édouard Lemaître (17 July 1894 – 20 June 1966) was a Belgian priest, astronomer and professor of physics at the Catholic University of Leuven. He proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, widely misattributed to Edwin Hubble. He was the first to derive what is now known as Hubble’s law and made the first estimation of what is now called the Hubble constant, which he published in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, which he called his “hypothesis of the primeval atom” or the “Cosmic Egg”.
[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) §362.
[10] CCC §363.
[11] CCC §364.
[12] CCC §88.
[13] Catholic Answers, Birth Control.
[14] The social pressure was largely the result of the efforts made by one woman, Marie Stopes. For more on Marie Stopes I have included a brief history of her movement and activities immediately following this article.

About the Author

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator.

Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin.

He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is “Colloqui: A journal for restless minds”, a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

He is the author of two books: “The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence” which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and “Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories” which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love.

He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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