Insofar as the Catholic Church is harmless, it’s because nobody takes it seriously

Last week, Freethought Blogs picked up a new member, Libby Anne. She grew up in the Quiverfull movement, and her first couple of posts gave me a new perspective on the Catholics and contraception shitstorm. First, from her introductory post:

To those of you who are meeting me for the first time, greetings! And to readers who are following me here from my blogger site, well met, old friend! In this, my first post on FreeThought Blogs, I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself and my blog.

I grew up in an evangelical family, was involved in the religious right, and was homeschooled. I learned from creationist textbooks and was taught to embrace courtship in place of dating. My family was influenced by the Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy movements, which urge raising large numbers of children as an “army” for Christ and hold that women must always be under male authority and headship. College set off a chain of events that shook my life and beliefs to their core. By the time I graduated, I was an atheist, a feminist, and a political progressive.

Then from her post explicitly dealing with the controversy:

I know what my life would be like without contraception. If my fertility matched that of my mother, I would spend twenty-five years of my life constantly pregnant or nursing. Some people chose that life, but I don’t think it should be forced on anyone, and I know for sure it’s not what I want.

I grew up expecting to live that life, though. I grew up in an atmosphere where my worth as a woman ended up tied to how many children I would have. It wasn’t entirely intentional, it’s just that when you grow up hearing women continually praised for the number of children they have and child count becomes a status symbol, you really can’t help it. I expected to spend my life pregnant or nursing, changing diapers and wiping noses.

And then everything changed for me. As I rethought what I believed and what I wanted from life, I discovered that I could choose how many children I wanted to have and when to have them. I mean, I’d always known I could do that, but I finally came to see that as an actual option and to appreciate what it meant. Allowed to consider anything and everything, I realized that I didn’t want the huge family, didn’t want the constant pregnancies, didn’t want to stay at home. And thankfully, I didn’t have to.

The reason this made me stop and think is that in all the posts I’ve written until now, it didn’t even occur to me to point out that a good chunk of the Catholic laity would be opposing the bishops on the contraception issue. Pretty much everyone knows that in practice, the Catholic church does not function as a billion-member Quiverfull movement, no matter what the official positions of its leaders. In the united states, Catholic women use contraception at the same rate as non-Catholic women.

But it’s worth taking a moment to to think what it would mean if lay Catholics actually took their leaders seriously on contraception. According to Wikipedia, a quarter of Americans identify as Catholic. If all Catholics followed their church’s teachings on contraception, that would mean about a quarter of American women growing up the way Libby Anne did. Think about that for a moment, especially if you’re the kind of person who sees the Catholic church as a relatively moderate form of Christianity compared to those nasty fundamentalists.

Though I’d also emphasize that word “insofar” in the post title. In light of the child-rape-coverup scandal, the Catholic church is obviously far from harmless, even in America.

Another thing: When I first wrote a post on the Catholics-and-contraception issue, I didn’t intend it to be a recurring series. I think the reason it’s turned in to one is because this is a great example of how the insane old men are losing the argument, which is something I think atheists should reflect on more.

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