As promised, this week I’m focusing on the Church’s teaching on contraception: the whys, whens, and hows of it, and (hopefully!) providing a good framework for discussion between couples, curious (or hostile) family members, and the occasional stranger with raised eyebrows in the checkout line.
Today’s topic? Some of the historical background on the practice of contraception, and what the Catholic Church’s response has been as the world around her has embraced the practice with open arms.
Throughout the history of Christianity the practice of contraception was uniformly condemned by every single denomination until the early 1920’s. Even Freud and Ghandi, no staunch advocates of Christianity, opposed the practice, identified it as a sexual disorder and a symptom of a deeper societal illness. Check these out:
“The abandonment of the reproductive function is the common feature of all perversions. We actually describe a sexual activity as perverse if it has given up the aim of reproduction and pursues the attainment of pleasure as an aim independent of it.” – Sigmund Freud
“A society that has already become enervated through a variety of causes will still become further enervated by the adoption of artificial [birth control] methods …. As it is, man has sufficiently degraded women for his lust, and artificial methods, no matter how well-meaning the advocates may be, will still further degrade her.” – Ghandi
Kind of crazy, right? To hear that intensity of condemnation for something which has become such a widely-accepted and even lauded practice, coming from secular and non-Christian voices?
Here’s a final quote that might be more surprising than the first two combined:
“This [contraception] 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.” – Martin Luther
So after 1,900 some-odd years of unified condemnation of the practice, the Anglican Church became the first to cave, but initially it was only for grave circumstances and for married couples, decided on a case-by-case basis, a kind of “less of two evils” concession – but pandora’s box was opened.
Within the next 5 decades, every single Christian denomination, save for one, would make acceptions for contraception – timidly and with many stipulations at first, but eventually with enthusiasm, and even endorsement, issuing in a growing theological development in the Protestant world of the idea of “stewardship” and “being free to do God’s will and better serve His church” if one wasn’t burdened by so many children.
With the development of the hormonal birth control pill in the 1960’s a massive cultural change was about to take place, and the momentum behind it was unbelievable. Many Catholics – including some priests and bishops – thought the Church might reverse her stance on birth control
Then Humane Vitae dropped. And drop it did, like a bomb on a culture on the cusp of the Sexual Revolution. And it was not entirely well received, to put it mildly.
But the Church stood firm as she always has, and now nearly 50 years later, she’s become the lone voice of any real influence continuing to stand in opposition to contraception.
And here’s why
First of all, as with any hard teaching of Christ, the real hardness lies in our hearts struggling to accept God’s will while putting aside our own.
It hurts to die to self. And He doesn’t ask us to do it lightly.
Remember, every hard thing the Church teaches, whether on the indissolubility of marriage, the sanctity of human life, embryonic stem cell research, assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia…She teaches out of love and concern for her children – for both their bodies and souls.
The ban on contraception has nothing to do with withholding some pleasure or rejecting some good thing.
The Catholic Church is not anti science or anti technology – but she is pro life and pro love.
And contraception is the enemy of both life and of love.
Holy Mother Church isn’t dangling the forbidden fruit of contraception over our heads while taunting us with visions of 12-passenger vans and arduous years of practicing NFP.
It is for the sake of our health and our wholeness, body and soul, and for the health and the longevity of our marriages that she sees contraception for what it truly is: a poison to marital love and a license for heartache and mutual use.
And so she throws an arm across us like a mom in a mini van coming to a hard stop and yeah, maybe it makes us wince a little from the force of it, but her one aim is our safety, our wellbeing, our lives…both here in this life, and in eternity.
Tune in tomorrow when we’ll ask the next logical question: What’s wrong with contraception in the first place?