Sunday, July 8, 2012


The flap about the HHS mandate has not only made clear the Administration's antipathy toward orthodox Christianity, but has also brought to the fore a long-simmering problem within the Catholic Church: birth control.

The Church teaches that artificial - as opposed to natural - methods of contraception are morally wrong.  The majority of American Catholics do not adhere to the Church's teaching, although a substantial minority of American Catholics follow the Church's teachings. 

As a convert to Catholicism, I continue to be mystified at the efforts of  people born into the Catholic Church to redefine Catholicism in their own image.  As centuries of Protestantism have demonstrated, if you don't believe what the Catholic Church teaches, you may either find a denomination that agrees with you, or invent one of your own.

Better yet, why not actually study what the Church teaches?  A recent study in Big Cold Town, where I live, revealed that more than 50% of those who call themselves Catholic think that Jesus sinned.  Since the Church has been clear about this particular issue for 2000 years or so, it is hard to understand how Catholics get this so wrong.  It appears many Catholics do not have the foggiest notion about what the Catholic Church believes.

If you want to study what the Church believes about human sexuality, Pope John Paul II wrote a terrific book called "Theology of the Body." The book considers the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Church's teaching on human sexuality.   If you want "Theology of the Body for Beginners," a very readable and concise overview of the Pope's book, it is $7 online.  Check it out.

One reason Catholics don't actually know what the Church teaches is that many priests don't actually teach them.  Here's an article on a priest who actually preaches about what the Church teaches.

No one argues that artificial birth control must be a categorical moral good, without which the whole idea of morality crumbles. The arguments in favor of artificial birth control are varied, but basically boil down to two:

  • it's what people want to do, and we shouldn't tell them otherwise, since it has to do with sex
  • it helps keep the population under control, and that's a good thing
As for the first, there are lots of sexual behaviors that we prohibit or disapprove of as disordered.  Rape, incest, child abuse and adultery all come to mind.  So the fact that a behavior has something to do with sex does not mean that the Church (or society) cannot point out that it is wrong and harmful.   

As for the second, it both assumes that population control is a good thing, and that there are no countervailing moral considerations.  Yet murder and forced sterilization might be thrifty ways to control the population - and have been advocated by population control enthusiasts -  but we don't approve of either one.  So the idea is at least out there that there might be some moral limits on what we do to keep from having more people around.  We cannot use every means available to control the population.

And as for the assumption that "population control" is a good thing, maybe not so much.  It hasn't worked out the way everyone seemed to think it would, as demographic studies over the last 10 years have begun to demonstrate. 

The Church's teaching is founded on a perfectly rational view of the value of human life and our duty to preserve and honor it.  

The Church views human life as a profound good, worthy of protection and honor at every stage of development, no matter how weak, and no matter how wounded.  This view informs the Church's views on caring for the sick, the poor, the elderly, and even criminals, and is responsible for much that is good in this feckless and uncaring world.

It is very difficult to argue against the Church's view of the dignity of human life.  This should at least give pause to people who want to dismiss the Church's position on artificial birth control as illogical or unreasonable.

The Church's teaching is also founded on a perfectly rational scientific view of when life begins, a view that is adopted by every standard text on embryology and human development: human life begins at conception.  Coherent arguments that human life does not begin at conception are difficult to make and more difficult to defend.  This should at least give pause to people who want to abuse the Church's position without engaging in a serious discussion about it.

This is all to say that perhaps we could turn down the volume on the shouting, and stop jeering at the Church long enough to actually think seriously about what it is saying.  Is the Church's position so obviously ludicrous that it deserves to be laughed at?  Are sterility and promiscuity so obviously universal moral goods that we should never be permitted to breathe a word of criticism about either one, on pain of being tarred and feathered in the public forum?

Perhaps we could stop the carousel for just a few minutes and think about this.  We might conclude, after some serious reflection, that the Church is right, and - heavens! - its critics are wrong.

I'm just saying.  It could happen.


  1. Hats off to the EO. As a fellow “word smith” once told me, “He’s one good writer”.

  2. Some young couples have not drunk the kool aid and still live what you are talking about ...

    I'm just sayin ... it does happen :)

  3. GREAT article! Thanks for passing it on to me.


  4. Thanks Liz, I am glad you enjoyed it!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.