Truth or Consequences:
65 Years of Contraception Takes its Toll
John F. Kippley
In a culture in which even most of those who consider themselves Christian take contraception for granted, it is difficult to see the anti-social, anti-family effects which the acceptance of marital contraception has had upon this very same culture.
I suggest that all of us need to take this issue more seriously. We need to read the newspaper in the context of the contemporary assault on marriage and family life.
As you recall, March 13, 1996, witnessed a tragedy in the small town of Dunblane, Scotland. Thomas Hamilton, a 43-year-old man with an inordinate interest in young boys, killed 16 kindergarten children, their teacher, and then killed himself. A tragedy in every way.
Without in any way trying to reduce the level of sheer tragedy, we need to understand that there are some tragedies that are truly non-understandable in human terms. But there are other tragedies that are quite understandable; in fact, we can say that the biggest surprise about some of them is that they don't happen more often. Dunblane is one of these.
A Victim of Four Revolutions
In this case, the 18th victim, Thomas Hamilton, was also the first victim. He was first of all a victim of the sexual revolution, not just because he was sexually oriented towards young boys but because he felt sorry for himself that he could not indulge his fancies. The sexual revolution says that anything you can imagine is morally permissible, provided it is (or can be made) socially acceptable. Thomas Hamilton undoubtedly was sure that he could talk some of those young boys into sexual activity if only it weren't for old-fashioned laws and parents. A couple of fathers had already beaten him up for unnamed transgressions.
Secondly, he was a victim of moral relativism. No absolutes. Your intention is all that really counts. This is such a common belief today that most people who think this way don't realize that they are making an "act of faith" in some unknown philosopher, theologian, or committee that first repudiated the idea of moral absolutes and taught a doctrine of moral relativism.
Third, he was a victim of the abortion revolution. Killing the weak has become socially acceptable. Thomas Hamilton lived in Scotland, a land dominated religiously by the Church of Scotland. This denomination is so pro-abortion that it has forced at least one of its ordained ministers out of his ministry because of his pro-life views and words. That man and his family recently entered into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Fourth, he may have been a victim of the recent Church of England's teaching that there is no hell. In January 1996, that body reported that the traditional concept of hell as a place of fiery punishment should no longer be considered the definitive image of damnation. Rather, hell should be seen as a final and irrevocable turn from God resulting in non-existence. As it was reported on the Catholic World News wire service on January 11, "The report says Hell as a fiery destination is too frightening for the faithful and makes God seem uncaring, while the new conception of Hell places responsibility upon the individual Christian. The report also warns pastors that the faithful should continue to seek salvation even though the definition of Hell has changed."
Consider the existential position of Thomas Hamilton in early March of this year. He is miserable. All day long he is miserable as he lusts after those young boys. All day long he is miserable as he feels sorry for himself. He is probably thinking that the parents of those boys can have unlimited sex thanks to the sexual revolution's acceptance of contraception, but he is denied by them of what he thinks is his fair share. So he is consumed by hatred for those parents. He probably has convinced himself that those parents deserve punishment, or maybe he is so confused by moral relativism and the social acceptance of killing the weak that he no longer thinks in terms of right and wrong. But still there is a brooding fear that holds him back. What might await him if he kills himself? Might he be even more miserable than he is at present?
Yet, for two months, the venerable Church of England has been publicly telling him that he no longer needs to fear a painful and eternal damnation. He will either go to unimaginable bliss in heaven; or he will go to non-being, which sounds like being permanently asleep-and being asleep is the only time he's not miserable now. For two months he has been hearing this, and he has heard no outcry from the other churches or the rank and file. His fear of hell is dissipated. So he cracks, and the rest is history.
I do not know if that's the way it really happened, but it offers an understandable explanation of this tragedy. Ideas do have consequences, and when a person soaks in and really believes the basic tenets of the liberal society, the consequences can be both logical and tragic-for that person, for other families, and for society.
I submit that Dunblane is one more of the tragedies that have resulted from the acceptance of marital contraception. Let me try to put it in context.
The Sexual Revolution
The sexual revolution started in the 1860s, not the 1960s. It started with the neo-Malthusians who began promoting marital contraception. It must be understood that marital contraception is based on an idea before it becomes behavior. The basic idea is that modern husbands and wives are free to take apart what God has put together in the marriage act. Look at it this way. First, who put together in one act what we call "making love" and "making babies"? The theist answers, "God." Second, what is contraception except the effort to take apart what God has put together in the marriage act? The advocacy of the idea that you can morally contracept goes back to the 1860s.
The sexual revolution was embraced by Protestant Christianity in 1930 and 1931. At their conference in Lambeth, the bishops of the Church of England were the first to give formal acceptance to marital contraception on August 14, 1930. Despite the American Comstock anti-contraception laws, which had been passed by basically Protestant legislatures in 1873 to respond to the attacks of the neo-Malthusians, the Federal Council of Churches also accepted contraception on March 21, 1931.
Abortion and moral relativism were formally accepted by the National Council of Churches on February 23, 1961. Here is a quotation from its statement: "Most of the Protestant churches hold contraception and periodic abstinence to be morally right when the motives are right. The general Protestant conviction is that motives, rather than methods, form the primary moral issue, provided the methods are limited to the prevention of conception. Protestant Christians are agreed in condemning abortion or any method which destroys human life except when the health or life of the mother is at stake." While that statement sounds anti-abortion at first glance, the reality is that almost every abortion is done for the "health" of the mother. Whenever you start making motives primary over the thing done, you are into moral relativism.
Please note what happened. Once liberal Protestantism accepted contraception, it slid further into moral relativism and accepted the killing of unborn babies as a lesser evil than possible impairment of the mother's health. In the United States, "health" includes mental health, which means everything from a headache to irritation that a diaphragm didn't work.
After the acceptance of contraception led to the acceptance of abortion for birth control, the acceptance of killing the weak led to a growing acceptance of killing two more classes of the weak: 1) the aged and extremely sick and suffering, and 2) oneself -- suicide.
The acceptance of the idea that husband and wife can take apart in the marriage act what God has very specifically put together has had far reaching and disastrous effects. There is utterly no question that the religious, legal and social acceptance of marital contraception led to the religious, legal and social acceptance of the killing of the weakest members of the human race. I don't see how anyone can realistically deny the connection between the legal, social and religious acceptance of abortion and the efforts to gain those same acceptances for euthanasia. Furthermore, I don't think that anyone, upon reflection, can deny the connection between the acceptance of contraception and sodomy, because contracepting married couples seek to make their relations just as sterile as those of homosexuals. Indeed, the litigation now taking place to secure legal acceptance of homosexual marriages has its roots in the legal acceptance of marital contraception. At its heart, contraception is anti-family, and its consequence is the sodomitic household now wanting the legal benefits of being called a family.
Why is contraception wrong?
Since so much of what is wrong in contemporary culture stems from the modern original sin of accepting marital contraception as morally permissible and even good, it is worthwhile to refresh our thinking on why contraception is wrong.
In the Onan account in Genesis 38:6-10, the Lord demonstrates his vast displeasure with contraceptive behavior. Onan practices withdrawal, and God slays him because he has done an abominable thing. For twenty centuries Christians recognized this as a teaching against contraception. In tradition, we read in the first-century Didache a condemnation of contraception. In 1989 Charles Provan wrote The Bible and Birth Control in which he showed that Luther, Calvin, Wesley and about 100 prominent Protestant theologians over the years interpreted the Onan account as a condemnation of contraceptive behavior. Luther called it a form of sodomy; Calvin called it a form of homicide. However, God rarely tells us explicitly in Scripture why something is wrong. Take the familiar commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and then the further explanations by Jesus about what constitutes adultery. Then notice that God doesn't explain why adultery is wrong; He doesn't argue with us.
Yet it's important to offer an explanation of why certain behaviors are wrong. Catholic theology has always tried to use reason to defend the faith. In brief, theology is supposed to help us understand the "why" of the commandments.
Regarding contraception, there are different explanations for its evil. I suggest one reason that I think is quite understandable. We start with a brief statement of what sexual intercourse should be.
Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant. Those 17 words constitute the core statement of the covenant theology of sexuality.
First, God intends that sexual intercourse must be a marriage act. Non-marital sex is intrinsically dishonest and therefore evil.
Second, marital relations ought to be an act of renewal or affirmation. For better and for worse. However, the body language of contraception is very clear: for better but not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy. Marital intercourse with contraception is just as invalid as a marriage act as if the couple had said "for better but not for worse" at their wedding.
The family is at the heart of the culture wars. More specifically, the anti-family nature of contraception has had anti-family effects far beyond the imaginations of the Neo-Malthusians of the 1860s or the liberal Protestants of the 1930s.
Can anything be done? Of course. First, pray daily and sacrifice regularly for a rebirth of chastity, marital as well as pre-marital. Second, if you enjoy a good working relationship with any of your parish priests, suggest that he make a complete course on natural family planning a normal part of preparation for marriage in your parish. It may be the greatest thing you can do to foster the development of Catholic family life in your parish.
Copyright by John Kippley 1996
Previously published in Lay Witness, June 1966. Reprinted with permission by Catholics United for the Faith (www.cuf.org ).