Einstein, Insanity and Humane Vitae

The Daily Telegraph reports the record number of teenage pregnancies and abortions in the UK. In response the government wants more contraceptive education, more abortion clinics, more free condoms and more sex education for younger and younger children.

This has provoked a conservative response that points out quite rightly that the policy of free contraception, and universal ‘values free’ sex education has failed. Yet, the conclusion the liberal establishment draws is, “Whoops! teen pregnancy and abortions are still going up. Clearly we have not given enough sex education and handed out enough free condoms to children early enough.” This is like saying, “Gee, my car conked out when I put orange juice in the gas tank. I guess I didn’t put enough in. I better add some more.” The article quotes Einstein, who defined insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
It brings to mind Anne Atkins–a very down to earth vicar’s wife who was asked about condoms for teens by some liberal lame brain on BBC Radio 4.  The radio presenter said, “But don’t you think the problem is that teenagers simply do not have enough access to good sex education and free contraceptives?” Atkins roared with laughter and replied, “Do you have a sixteen year old son? I can’t even get mine to change his underwear. Do you seriously think he’s going to take enough responsibility to put on a condom–especially when he’s had a few to drink and is feeling amorous? What planet do you live on?”
The Captain has suggested that conservative Catholics are living in fairyland since we keep on harping on about Humane Vitae. What’s the point when nobody listens, and even most Catholics pay no attention?
Conservative Catholics are not naive or ignorant of the world. We know most people won’t listen. We know many Catholics are themselves disobedient to the teachings of their own church. So what. Disobedience to a law does not negate a good law, but proves the integrity and need for the law. If a man kills ten people by speeding his car through a forty mile an hour zone it doesn’t prove that the speed limit was wrong. It proves that the speed limit was right. 
We realize few will listen. We know we’re like the dog who barks at the passing train. He barks not because he thinks the train will stop, but because he’s a dog.
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  • Love your way with words Fr! this sex ed thing is a time bomb here & a real pain for anyone who dares question the need..particularly in our Catholic schools!

  • I agree on some of this but…Sorry. I have to disagree on a few subtle levels. I don’t think HV was a document to try to whap the non-catholic masses on the nose with for sexual misconduct. HV is complex, has a lot of subtleties, and JPII wrote massive books explaining it with regard to the Theology of the Body. Anything you have to write long volumes about to make sense of for faithful catholics will never, ever be something convincing for the greater throng of humanity.So I wouldn’t read HV to teens to convince them to be responsible. It’s way too complicated. Good catholic virtues of chastity and good sexual ethics do not need a complicated encyclical in that such settings. Hey, I’m glad Rome has stood against the tide with documents like HV. But don’t go pretending its a good pamphlet for the clinic or for teens.The hardest bit is the notion that the rythm method is OK but a layer of latex is evil. This is an extremely challenging pill for the rational mind to swallow. Time and Space are both variables. It is apt that you invoke Einstein. Surely he would have had difficulty understanding why keeping sperm and egg apart via time or via space (a barrier) are any different at all from an ethical perspective. That’s like saying its not OK for the nazis to suffocate jews with a plastic bag, but it is OK to separate them in time from food. Killing jews at all was an evil act on the part of the nazis. If an act (spacing children) is sometimes good, then surely time vs. space methods can’t have much to do with it. The bottom line for birth control is the intentional act of spacing children. Regardless of the means to that end the common man will see no difference so long as both means exact no greater evil. (Clearly infanticide is a greater evil, a barrier, not so clear).JPII’s argument is to delve into the subtleties of the conjugal act. He (and B16) argue that the unitive good of the enjoining of two bodies should not be compromised with a barrier, and that the courtship and periodic abstinence of the rythm method have redeeming qualities. That’s if I have understood everything adequately, but that is seemingly hard to do since the books are so long and range from poetic quotes from Genesis to biological arguments. Occam’s razor and all that, you know, it is hard to support such a laborious argument as HV.I’m not knocking HV for the faithful. I’m just knocking the notion that one would ever use it to convince a teen to abstain, to drive public policy, or to convince a non-catholic of anything. It’s a document of subtle distinction for the practicing catholic, the experienced ‘spiritual warrior’ if you ask me. (Donning flame-proof suit now)…Making education and birth control available seems to me to be a reasonable component of public policy. The failing is the lack of spiritual and ethical foundation on which to build any of these teachings or on which to teach abstinence and chastity as the primary good. Remember that Bush has been pushing abstinence programs with mixed results. One can’t help but to conclude that the world needs both. Condoms are not evil in and of themselves, and wishing more-severe consequences on those so fail seems evil-in-itself to me. Clear condoms are better for the fallen than no condoms, and abstinence is best of all. Clearly virtue needs to be taugh in parallel with biology. Combine all that and I think you’ll see some iumprovement. Teach only virtue and no biology and I don’t think you’ll get anywhere.

  • Jackie, see if you can get a copy of the American book “Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage” by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. I just finished it and it’s fantastic. The two authors spent five years with young unmarried mothers who were below the poverty line in income but who had not had their children taken away from them by social service agencies — in other words, young women who were not drug addicts or otherwise impaired by anything but poverty.Their conclusions are startling, although they do not go far enough (I thought) in their recommendations. They found that most of these births are either planned, or “sort of” planned by girls or young women who were not trying to prevent them. Some of these girls had their first, planned, pregnancy at 14. They had and knew how to use birth control, but they chose not to. (Indeed, most women in these circumstances has only one to three children, and uses birth control after that to limit their families).These women have given up on men, often for good reason given the men available to them, and want to be mothers. They do not see having children as “ruining their lives” the way college students who have abortions do, but as the ultimate fulfillment of their lives. And they don’t see why any woman would wait until, say, her 30s to have children.I don’t know if this is true in Britain as well, but it sure goes a long way toward explaining the phenomenon of young, poor, unmarried mothers in the United States. All the condoms in the world don’t prevent a planned birth, and teaching young people all about sex in school when they know there is no realistic chance of their marrying or reason to put off having children (these young women live where single mothers are the rule, and they know how to work while caring for children) is part of the problem. They know the mechanics and the expectations. More sex education in the schools won’t help at all.

  • Are you calling Catholics dogs?! ;)-Harrison

  • Is Humane Vitae an abstinence program?

  • marcus aurelius,You stated “The hardest bit is the notion that the rythm method is OK but a layer of latex is evil. This is an extremely challenging pill for the rational mind to swallow. Time and Space are both variables. It is apt that you invoke Einstein. Surely he would have had difficulty understanding why keeping sperm and egg apart via time or via space (a barrier) are any different at all from an ethical perspective. That’s like saying its not OK for the nazis to suffocate jews with a plastic bag, but it is OK to separate them in time from food.”Your analogy and reasoning are flawed, since you are confusing motives with actions. You correctly stated that the killing of the Jews was always evil regardless of motivation or method used. However, spacing of children is morally neutral, motive and method are where the rubber hits the road (sorry, pun intended). There can be morally justified reasons to not have or to space children (financial, health, etc). However what we are talking about is the conjugal act itself. Couples that practices the “rhythm method” (note: Modern NFP methods are extremely robust and effective) are not in any way changing the nature of the marriage act. A couple who uses artificial contraception, be it chemical or mechanical, is deliberately and fundamentally changing the nature of sexual intercourse. God created the act to be a total giving of the self to the other (including fertility), therefore, it is intrinsically evil to alter the nature of the act He created. It doesn’t matter how “good” we think our reasons are. A couple using artificial contraception makes two choices, one, to engage in intercourse, and two, to deliberately and artificially alter the act to avoid children. A couple who practices NFP never has to make that second choice. So while their motives may be identical, their actions are fundamentally and clearly different.Andrew

  • Marcus Aurelius said…”The hardest bit is the notion that the rythm method is OK but a layer of latex is evil.”Only if you are persisting in the separation of the two ends of marital relations: unitive and procreative. To abstain from marital relations for a period of time, you are sacrificing the unitive end while the procreative end must be sacrificed (for whatever reason…health, finances, etc)Contraception doesn’t require that balanced sacrifice on the part of a couple, and in fact encourages the uneven sacrifice of the procreative end. So long as you teach teens that the two can be separated (and that it is good and okay to do so) you will see an increase in people refusing to sacrifice the unitive end not only to prevent pregnancy, but also refusing to wait for marriage.

  • Perhaps my brain is overly binary in nature, but I can think of no action that requires two postive outcomes in order to be good. I would have an easier time with HV if someone could provide at least one analogy of an act that requires two good outcomes to be good; or to explain that logic to me.Andrew: I think waiting until marriage can be argued for on other grounds. Hurt feelings related to sex in a non-committed relationship, risk of unwanted pregnancy, missing out on marriage within a dead-end relationship, and the general ethic of chastity are all good arguments. I still think HV is too complex to bring into the picture. Telling a teen 'you can't separate the unitive and procreative good because the church says so is simply not the tactic I would use for teens, seculars, people from other faiths, or the world at large. It's not a good policy-driver.Lori & Andrew: I think you both did a great job and summarized the theology of the body in a combox pretty effectively. If I were to teach catholic kids the teachings of the church as expressed in HV, I would argue in a manner similar to what you have done. I also appreciate your thoughts as I do think they brnig clarity. I still think it is a complex argument and by its nature is for us catholics and not the world at large.

  • MA–you’re right, as a beginning text, HV would be too difficult to present to teens (Catholic or otherwise) and a non-believing public…mostly because we (education, media, society) have been feeding people pablum for so long, they couldn’t even comprehend it enough to honestly disagree with it!If we can get back to teaching people (Catholics, first…then we can effectively evangelize) what God wants of us, and holding people to the standard instead of compromising on everything so we aren’t called mean, neolithic bigots and worse, we will have success in utilizing papal texts like HV and others to communicate those truths.We also need to develop or employ a more “pro” approach instead of an “anti” one…we are pro-marriage, pro-life, pro-chastity, not simply anti-premarital sex, anti-contraception. More homilies/catechetical texts/etc about the blessings that come from following God’s word on these issues. Then we will see the fruits of such teaching.

  • Marcus,Let’s first start where we agree. I agree that HV is a complex encyclical that can confuse most people. Few people can understand it in its entirety without aid. At the same time I think that some parts of it (e.g. the prophetic societal consequences) can easily and readily be grasped by all. HV contains meat and milk; the appropriate part should be used at the appropriate time.I agree that handing out copies of HV is not going to solve the problem. I think a multifaceted approach using as little “religion” as possible is the way to deal with secular society. Point out the environmental effects of the pill. Talk about the medical side effects of hormonal agents including the rare but serious medical complications as well as the very common decrease in sexual drive and desire. Stress the abortifacient aspect of hormonal birth control and IUDs. When it comes to condoms give the “real world” statistics on failure rates. Show graphic pictures of STDs and inform people of the pathetically low capabilities condoms have for preventing transmission. Inform people that there is no such thing as “safe sex” or even “safer sex” and that condoms are just a placebo; a feel-good fix-nothing solution because the majority of STDs are spread through contact of the regions NOT covered by condoms. And finally, dispel people of the notion that sex is somehow separated from procreation. Even if you have to lead them by the hand, get people to realize that the consequence of sex is babies; that there is no such thing as an “accidental” pregnancy ‘cause if you do the deed you should expect to breed.Marcus, your use of the term “rhythm method” betrays your ignorance of modern (post 1970s) developments in Natural Family Planning. “Rhythm” is name of an obsolete method and NOT a catch-all phrase or category. I think that teaching NFP should be a major portion of any “sex-ed” course. NFP is a very attractive option, even for people without a religious/moral reason to use it. Modern NFP methods are as and often more effective than any other method of birth control. There is also the low-cost of the method ($10 thermometer vs monthly prescriptions, procedures, etc.) and the use of charting the cycle in diagnosing other health problems.James G

  • Marcus,Now to the big disagreement. You wrote: “The hardest bit is the notion that the rhythm[sic] method is OK but a layer of latex is evil. This is an extremely challenging pill for the rational mind to swallow.” I would argue the opposite, that it is extremely easy and rational to wrap one’s head around the concept and that those who fail to have a psychological rather than a “rational” blockage.“Time and Space are both variables.” Aye, but not the same variable.“Surely he would have had difficulty understanding why keeping sperm and egg apart via time or via space (a barrier) are any different at all from an ethical perspective.” This is only true if you somehow confuse the two (space/time). Theoretical physicists prone to flights of fancy aside, it is plainly logical that space and time are two very different things. Sperm being present in the vaginal tract at a distinct moment in time is a very different thing then sperm never being present there at all. Just as phone-sex is not the same as real sex because of the separation of space (not time); condomized sex is not the same as the real thing. By-the-by, Nazi analogies are not a good way to prove a point as they tend to end discourse and inflame attitudes.“The bottom line for birth control is the intentional act of spacing children.” Ah, there’s the root of your failure to grasp. The bottom-line or intention of birth control is NOT the spacing of birth; it is the prevention of conception in an otherwise potentially fertile act. NFP is NOT birth-control; it is the intentional spacing of children (i.e. family planning). NFP does nothing to prevent conception, by its nature it cannot. We can debate the morality of having sex only when conception is highly improbable but that is still not the same as actively taking an action to prevent conception by: not depositing sperm in the vaginal tract (condoms; pulling out); chemically sterilizing a woman (pill; patch; injection; ring); killing the sperm (spermicides); physically preventing sperm that is deposited in the vaginal tract from contacting the ovum in the fallopian tubes (diaphragm; tube-tying); or prevention of implantation of a fertilized embryo (all hormonal devices; IUD).James G

  • Marcus,Getting to your second comment.“Perhaps my brain is overly binary in nature, but I can think of no action that requires two positive[sic] outcomes in order to be good.” I think the problem here is that you’re thinking the two bonums of the conjugal are of equal weight or value. That both are good is not to be denied but historically the teaching has been that the procreative aspect of sex is the primary good. This gets downplayed a bit to better appeal to our sex-crazed culture but the primary good of sex is procreation. Diminishment of the unitive aspect of the conjugal act is not a good thing but it does not eliminate the good of the act because the primary good is preserved. Destroying the procreative aspect irreparably damages the act because it is the primary though not only good.James G

  • Marcus,Finally I want to state that I don’t think we are far apart in our positions. We agree that HV is not a panacea. We would both take reality and practicality into consideration in our approach. I even think that we agree on the ideal. Where we part company is that you would allow a lower-standard for others, not outright condemn the evils of contraception if it is an alternative to a worse evil (abortion, poverty, etc.). I could go on about why ALL forms of contraception are evil and why no complicity with it should be allowed but that would get a very deep moral discussion that I have not the time for. Mike Liccione at Sacramentum Vitae has had some good posts on the subject that along with their comboxes addressed the topic quite well.I part by saying that we agree on more than we disagree; where we disagree I am right and you are wrong; I hope that you realize your errors in time and study; and that we remain on good terms despite disagreement. Have a great day and may God bless you and yours.James G

  • historically the teaching has been that the procreative aspect of sex is the primary good. Historically you are right, but in modern times the church teaches agains IVF, even if no embryos are sacrificed, because procreative acts lacking the unitive dimension are considered to be wrong. So clearly Sex is the only act considered by christian scholars to require two good outcomes.Historically, sex itself was seen in some quarters as being an evil. Therefore it had to be countered by something in order to be good. So it takes two good outcomes to counter the evil of sex itself. It’s just not popular any more to admit that we used to think sex was evil and now we do not. But I think that must be the reason why we think sex requires two goods to be good in our basic philosophical approach.

  • Marcus,I’m just theorizing here as I’ve never made a study on IVF (if you can link to some documents it’d be appreciated). I would think that just as removing the procreative aspect from the sexual act wounds the act; separating procreation from the sexual act wounds procreation. The two were meant to be one; to divorce them from each other is to go against the created order.There is also the question of God’s will and how He created the world and designed it to function. God intended procreation to come about through the sexual act. He could have made humans bud off from each other; instead He chose to use an act by which the two become one flesh to literally produce a single flesh from the two (a child). God chose to use us as the means through which He creates new life. To create life in a different manner is to go against God’s will. God gave man the intellect with which man devised methods contrary to the Creator’s will but just because God gave us that capacity does not mean that using it is not evil, let alone good. God also gave man an intellect capable of bringing about “nuclear winter,” that does not mean He wills us to use it in such a manner.“…even if no embryos are sacrificed…” Is such a condition truly possible? Even if all the embryos fertilized are implanted are no embryos really sacrificed? The implantation of the embryos is not always successful so are not the embryos that fail to implant sacrificed? Does not the process of piercing the cell wall to implant the sperm often fatally weaken the egg’s integrity so as to result in the death of the child conceived outside of the womb? Theorizing about the morality of a hypothetical situation is moot. If there are no means to guarantee that no life is lost then IVF will always be immoral even if separating procreation from the sexual act was neutral in itself.Also, I have seen arguments that the good of procreation counters the sinful nature of sex (their argument, as I do not believe sex to be sinful in itself, rather sin enters when the sexual act is deformed from its true purpose and use) without any mention of the unitive dimension. That the unitive dimension is a good of sex I do not deny but that it is a necessary one I am not convinced of. (Personally I would never want to experience marital union without it but I don’t enjoy eating without the accompanying pleasure of pleasant taste, a secondary good, either.) I do not think you have proven that to remove the unitive aspect from a sexual act so disorders it that it becomes sinful thus requiring two goods for sex. Just as any unitive good (if there is such a thing) in a homosexual action is not sufficient to redeem it; neither is it sufficient to redeem a heterosexual act that has destroyed the procreative potential of that act. The procreative dimension is the vital and sufficient good of the sexual act. The unitive good is a cherry on top.James G

  • Clarification:Procreation is a good of the sexual act. Is procreation in and of itself a good? That is, taken outside of its intended context (a sexual act) is procreation a good or is it only good as a result of the sexual act? To justify IVF one would have to prove that even separated from the sexual act procreation is always a good thus allowing it to be separated from the only context it was intended to exit within. That God can create good from evil is not to be denied so He may choose to do good from an evil action of IVF in order to prevent further evil. That does not mean that IVF is not evil.