But Jesus called them to Him, saying, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God." Luke 18:16
It is commonly heard today that there are too many people in the world. The earth is being stripped of its resources. Eventually we will run out of food. The mass media eagerly help in promoting these fears. It appears that the only solutions are contraception and abortion. The Catholic Church is accused of aggravating this problem with her stance against these "solutions" and is thus blamed for the starvation of millions already in the world.
Blaming the hierarchy of the Church for the "starvation of millions" is as silly as blaming God. It ignores the real cause of starvation which is usually political. Also war, disease and starvation still occur without overpopulation. The end - preventing overpopulation - does not justify the means - contraception. Even if overpopulation were the cause, contraception is only a worldly, materialistic response. It lacks Christian faith, hope and love. Contraception can never replace our duty to practice almsgiving and mercy (Luke 11:41; 12:33; Acts 10:4,31; Matt. 6:4; Sirach 3:29; 29:8-12; Tobit 4:7-8; 12:8-9; 14:11). Love is unlimited and drives out all fears (1 John 4:18). These tragedies are opportunities for charity.
Now if overpopulation is truly a concern, then why is there interest in human cloning? If there were too many people, then it would be insane to clone more. Some people may claim that "every child must be wanted." Unfortunately human desires are fickle, so this attitude will not stop child abuse. This attitude stems from the desire to enjoy the pleasure without taking responsibility for the act. If the end is not wanted, then the means should not be abused. Others see children as a burden. Crudely put: they are just "more mouths to feed." This attitude is both pessimistic and antihumanitarian. A more hopeful attitude is to consider children as "more minds to solve problems."
In the early 19th century, Thomas Malthus claimed that population grows geometrically (e.g. 2x2x2...), whereas food production grows only arithmetically (e.g. 2+2+2...). Eventually our population is expected to out grow our food supply. Now this fear does not consider the possibility of technological advancements. Only a few geniuses are needed to solve a technological problem which can eliminate a resource shortage. In this century new strains of wheat and grains have been developed that grow faster and yield more food. Currently vegetables are being grown in hydroponic (without soil) green houses under a carbon dioxide enriched atmosphere. This enriched atmosphere accelerates the growth rate of the crop, while the green house allows for year-around growing in deserts. This farming technology is no longer science fiction, but commercially viable (Encarta’97, Hydroponics). Even though our natural resources are limited, the human mind can be limitless in new ideas. More advances in food production can be expected from fresh new minds - our future children.
As Christians, such optimism must be tempered with the recognition of original sin. Technology can be a "Tower of Babel", e.g. nuclear weapons and contraception. The human mind alone can never be our salvation, since God is our salvation. We are saved by Christ Jesus through faith which includes obeying His will (Matt. 7:21; 1 Thess. 4:3-8). But contraception is not God’s will (Gen. 9:1; 38:8-10; Malachi 2:15; 1 Tim. 2:15). As stated in the Bible:
Behold, children are a gift of the LORD; The fruit of the womb is a reward. [Psalm 127:3-5 NASB]
It is not wise to abuse a gift from God. Even Martin Luther and all Protestant churches before 1930 condemned contraception as evil. Now God gave us the gift of sexuality in order to better know Him as Love (Song of Songs; Hosea 2:1-23; Jer. 3; Is. 54) and to share in His creative power (CCC 2331ff). God, the Absolute Being, desires and loves each one of us - born and unborn (John 3:16; 1 John 3:1). This divine love elevates us from being mere things to being persons. This is why the abuses of sex are grave sins (Eph. 5:5).
Even though children are a gift, the Church does not teach that couples are obliged to have as many children as physically possible:
...For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior to the objective criteria of morality... [Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 2368].
Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which,... proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil... [CCC 2370].
The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception). [CCC 2399]
But what is the moral difference between contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP) based on periodic abstinence, if couples can use both with the intention to regulate birth?
Contraception is the intentional use of a drug, chemical, device or procedure to prevent pregnancy by acting directly against the fertility of each marriage act (sex). The biological purpose of sex is to reproduce, yet contraception denies the goodness of fertility. It is a lie in "body language" (CCC 2370). It works against our nature, i.e. God’s purpose for creating us. Contraception is analogous to enjoying a delicious meal and then vomiting with the intention to lose weight yet satisfy the appetite (binge-purge gluttony). It also helps to promote the sins of adultery (sex outside of marriage) and fornication (sex before marriage) by reducing the chance of "embarrassing" consequences. Finally the more convenient forms tend to operate by inducing early abortion, e.g. IUD and RU-486. Even the Pill and Mini-Pill do cause early abortion by preventing "the acceptance of a fertilized egg in the womb." [The Pill Book, 8th (Bantam Books, 1998) p. 247; also see PDR 53 ed. (1999) p. 3326]. Contraception is a type of sexual "gluttony."
In NFP, couples do not work directly against the fertility of the marriage act but regulate birth by periodically abstaining from the marriage act. The act is periodically avoided and not abused. NFP only gives information to help a couple choose between abstinence or the marriage act. During the woman’s naturally infertile times, spouses can engage in the marriage act; whereas, during the fertile periods, they can abstain. Under NFP, "the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition;" whereas in contraception, "they impede the development of natural processes." [Humanae vitae 16] Even though the moral intention is to regulate birth by abstinence, NFP still respects the goodness of human fertility. It is analogous to fasting with the intention to lose weight. In similar fashion, fasting respects food as a gift; whereas, gluttony abuses food. NFP does demand "just reasons", self-discipline, sacrifice, mutual consent (1 Cor. 7:5; Casti connubii 53) and openness to new life (CCC 2366) from both spouses.
Unfortunately too many people do not understand freedom. For some, freedom is choosing the "easy way." But true freedom is rarely easy (John 8:32; 14:6). Following sexual urges without constraint is not freedom but giving in to impulse. Gratifying impulses eventually leads to "slavery" (e.g. addiction; Titus 3:3). As Jesus reminds us:
"...the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many." [Matt. 7:13-14]
Having the freedom to climb a mountain or start a new business is not easy but demands sacrifice. Likewise continence in NFP may be difficult, but gives us, with God’s grace, the freedom to overcome sexual impulses and selfishness in order to pursue true love. Sense pleasures are good, but they are not the final purpose of human life (1 Cor. 10:31, Gal. 5:13).
There are serious problems in the world, but as Pope John Paul II proclaims in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope: "Be not afraid!" Death and suffering will never be eliminated on earth, yet both remind us about our dependence on God (2 Cor. 1:8-10). For Christians, there is God’s grace which is definitely limitless. As sinners, we should be concerned about the consequences of our sins, yet we have nothing to fear in doing God’s will under His grace. With God’s help, we can solve many problems until His Kingdom comes. Simply denying God and acting accordingly is not the answer. Our final destiny does not end with this worldly life (CCC 2371).
Printed with permission from A Catholic Response, Inc.