Catholicism, Contraception, Economic Woe

Interesting perspectives offered without comment on a busy day:

The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support forty billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or be prepared for crowding.
Flannery O’ Connor

Everything is connected and it may sound absurd to link contraception with the economic collapse, but think about it:

History will look back and decide that artificial contraception was the most radical and earth shattering invention ever devised by mankind. When the link between the sexual act and procreation was broken it not only changed our sexual behavior, it changed everything.

Most importantly, it changed the way we think about ourselves and our actions. The links between our actions and their natural consequences were broken. We began to expect that we could have whatever pleasure we wanted when we wanted and how we wanted and that we could avoid all the consequences of those actions. In sexual behavior it seemed to be so.

We became gods. We could do anything and have anything and we could avoid the cost. Extrapolate this mentality to the economic sphere and you’ll see what I mean. We told ourselves that we could have anything we wanted instantly simply by taking out another loan. If we were the lenders, we insured ourselves against loss in case those loans were not re paid.

The responsibility could always be shifted. The ‘problem’ could always be solved. Paying the price could always be delayed. We could just re-finance. Just as we got instant sexual gratification for free, so we thought we should have everything else instantly for free.
–Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Contraceptives & Economic Collapse

Your thoughts?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.firebrandblog.blogspot.com/ Elise

    The problem I have with this logic is that I hope there is a better basis than fear of pregnancy for not having thoughtless sex. Or, to put it another way, this argument seems to me to walk dangerously close to Obama’s reference to a child as punishment. So my question is: Are there reasons other than fear of pregnancy not to engage in thoughtless sex? If so, perhaps believing that fear of pregnancy was a sufficient deterrent to casual sex meant that society got lazy about formulating and teaching those other reasons and so when birth control became reliable people couldn’t quite articulate why everyone shouldn’t start whooping it up with whoever was handy. If not, then sex is not like economics where consequences are inescapable.

    And please note that I’m not talking about other physical consequences like STDs. Those, too, can be avoided or overcome by technology. I’m talking about moral, ethical, psychological (whatever terms you like) consequences, the kind the author is generalizing from sex to economics.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    artificial contraception was the most radical and earth shattering invention ever devised by mankind

    Yes and no. The onset of contraception, artificial or not, was indeed a major event, but it was merely one step in a process that had begun long before, namely the interrelated philosophies of utilitarian materialism and nihilistic existentialism, together with various class-based Marxist philosophies. Each of these worked their way into the mainstream of thought so as to undermine and destroy the very foundations of society, to wit, marriage and family, and to implement a new world that is, at once, both individualistic and selfish on the one hand, and the diametrically opposite loss of individuality in group/class identification on the other hand.

    Contraception, whether it is artificial or natural (e.g. NFP) used with a contraceptive mentality, was merely a case of throwing gasoline on the fire.

  • http://www.therextras.com Barbara

    I’m reminded of a concept used in parenting/child development:
    “natural consequences”.

  • http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com Hootsbuddy

    Just as we got instant sexual gratification for free, so we thought we should have everything else instantly for free.

    Fr. Longnecker is spot on.

    I put up a post forty-eight hours ago that also concluded by linking the economic meltdown with contraception.
    Is Food the New Sex?
    Short version…
    Technology now provides us with unlimited access to two fundamental human drives: food and sex. There are serious consequences to what happens when both appetites are overfed.
    The result is an “all you can eat” mentality.
    The economic echo of that same mindset is unconstrained credit, the consequences of which we now see unfolding.

    Do I have a witness?

  • JeannineK

    Fr. Dwight’s comments are very insightful. The concept goes far beyond “being punished with a baby.” I can remember people talking like that when I was a teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but as an adult now, I see that the idea of pregnancy as a punishment is a shallow idea. The child of the thoughtless sexual act is punished in this situation, far more than either of its parents. Either the child is aborted–brutally killed–or the child grows up without a father. A child has a right to know father and mother; people ought not to prevent this knowledge by their own irresponsible actions.

    Connecting sex and pregnancy gives the full weight and value to ourselves as human beings and to our dignity. Failing to connect sex and pregnancy trivializes life and human dignity. We are beginning to see the fruits in many areas of life. Unfortunately.

  • joeh

    If you have not read Humanae Vitae ever, or in a while, I would suggest you take time to read it. Look at the area where Pope Paul VI gave his reasons and predictions on what wide spread accepted use of birth control would do.
    I and my wife utilized birth control with almost no thought about it being good or bad. We were both ignorant Catholics and had never heard about this encylical or frankly even the controversy. But even in our married life, the Pope’s predictions became reality over time. When JPII layed out Theology of the Body, and one took time to really understand this most wonderful gift to our time, and then as he did tied it back to Humanae Vitae, you get a full understanding of everything our Church and our Popes guided by the Holy Spirit had given to our time. But many of the leaders of the church were in immediate dissent and many continue to be so even unto this time. I was privledged to have a wonderful Dominican who took time to provide teaching on both encyclicals, to tear them apart for us. This is not about the Church just saying no, but God who has said no because it goes to the very core of why we are created and the wonderful gift of life. However, it also brings us to abortion, invitro fertilization and now the accompanying embryonic stem cell killing for science. It lead to a time of increased pornography and men viewing women as objects only for pleasure of any type. It lead to women who once had high positions in society accepting things that have led to many finding emptiness. If you want to change your life, find a way to study these two wonderful documents preferably with someone to help you understand the full scope of their beauty.
    I wish that all those in the church with the job of teaching what a wonder we have to offer would do their job even today to insure that this message gets out. It is not an easy task. Much easier just to take the easy path of letting those lost think it is OK to contracept. In doing so, both join the wide path which leads to a place most will regret.

  • KIA

    I think what Father Longenecker wrote is most interesting, however I believe that spiritually, it is much deeper. Sex is the “earthly symbol” of perfect union with God, i.e., that “ultimate satisfaction filling that insatiable longing”, perfect union with God. This is proven many times over by the ecstasy of Saintly Catholic Celibates, especially the consecrated.

    In Christopher west’s latest book, “Heaven’s Song”, (the recently discovered Theology of the Body hidden writings of JPII, “too delicate” to have been delivered to the Wednesday Audience), the question is finally put to rest as to the “why” of Mary’s perpetual virginity. The answer is simply this. Mary was already totally fulfilled in “perfect union with God .” To have sex (i.e., the SIGN POINTING to perfect union), would have been a step backwards. Consequently, she and St. Joseph had a celibate marriage not because of prudery, but because to have sex would have been a step BACKWARDS. Consequently, Mary took St. Joseph FORWARD with her into Holy Celibacy, i.e., the “Song of Songs.”

    How this relates to Father L and his economy theory is this. We have sex terrible distorted, owing to our loss of mysticism . Our culture, always looking for the “ultimate pleasure/fulfillment from our unknowingly insatiable longing for God, can’t get beyond the “signpost”, which is why, we are obsessed. As JPII explains, it like having the key but never finding the door and going through.

    Consequently, in our cultural distortion and hunger, we will do ANYTHING to “find our fix”, especially contraception; “the enslavement” many think is our freedom.” Furthermore, it’s clearly a fact that Roe v Wade was passed BECAUSE of the already available birth control pill (little difference really). Most readers are well aware of the prophetic encyclical of Paul VI, Humane Vitae, and the slippery slope from “contraception, the debasement of life, and the “indignity of our objectification”, i.e., use, of each other for our own pleasures and needs.

    I believe with Father L that contraception was the culprit into our sinful behavior, consequently, moral relativism and a current administration ranging from tax cheats, pornography, and partial birth abortion advocates (for starters).

    From a totally secular view we can for sure conclude that 50 million aborted US citizens would have aided the economy greatly by their tax contributions alone, and perhaps that alone would have prevented this “collapse.” But without my crystal ball, I would say, probably not. I’ve believed from day one that we are reaping the consequences of our sins. That alone I doubt is not newsworthy among Catholics. What I don’t think many understand is the connection to “sex substitute” and the sacred. Indeed as another poster wrote, “food” may be a substitute.

    I would conclude that it is the REAL food, the Bread of Life, that we are so desperately seeking, most unable to find in the blindness of our contraceptive oversexed, pornified accepted culture. Consequently, in the blindness of our sins, we have lost our way so off track that even our economy can no longer hide our sins.

    All the while, the one bailout that no one is talking about is the one we need the most, God’s. It also the reason George Weigel , I believe, made the prediction that JPII’s Theology of the Body is a time bomb that will go off sometime this century. I’m convinced it is the solution, but probably not this generation. When we become “God obsessed”, we will no longer be “sex obsessed”; consequently, the thought of contraception would be inconceivable.

    All said, I totally agree with Father Longenecker’s premise:

    History will look back and decide that artificial contraception was the most radical and earth shattering invention ever devised by mankind. When the link between the sexual act and procreation was broken it not only changed our sexual behavior, it changed everything.
    I would only add: a consequence of losing God the Almighty!

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    KIA: “the enslavement” many think is our freedom

    I don’t know what the exact numbers are, but we have all heard about studies where it has been determined that males think about sex every 5-10 minutes. Again, I don’t know if it is that often, but I can assure you, guys think about it a lot.

    Does anyone really believe that such thoughts are always voluntary? Does anyone really believe that guys purposely and intentionally start thinking about sex that often? Let me tell you, usually you are minding your own business and then, all of a sudden, the thought pops into your head. Indeed, even when you don’t want such thoughts, they pop in. Even when you are determined not to think about it, those thoughts pop in. Part of it is sex-saturated modern culture, part of it is the nature of the beast.

    In short, such frequent thoughts about sex are involuntary and even contrary to our will. That is, we are not free with respect to sexual thoughts, but are slaves. Now, to be sure, there are some who, through the determination of their will, combined with a good dose of grace, have become masters of their passions, rather than slaves to them, but most people are not masters. Having failed to control their passions, their passions control them — sometimes in action, sometimes merely in thought.

    The sexual revolution did not free us. “Free love” does not make us more free; it makes us less free. Being contrary to the truth of our being as human persons, male and female, it makes us less free. It results in putting on the yoke of being controlled by base desire.

    One need not be a Catholic or non-Catholic Christian or Jew or Muslim to understand this. Anyone who has lived can tell you that it is true. I remember this guy saying once, a completely non-religious guy in his late 30s, “I wish I didn’t think about sex so often — I’m tired of it.”

    That is enslavement. When you want to do one thing, and simply want to go about living your life, but are forced against your will to do something else, then you are no longer free. When you are worn out from it, but are made to do it yet again, you are no longer free. And woe to the man who begins to give in to such enslavement. He will only find that the chains get heavier.

  • copithorne

    Disciplines of celibacy do have their place in the spiritual life. But to my mind the Catholic Church is still a long way from creating a structure of understanding and using celibacy. Even for celibate clergy, the Catholic Church does not have an adequate understanding of why and how. I would point to people such as Brother David Steindl Rast or Thomas Merton as people who had a mature understanding of celibacy. But that quality of understanding is hardly universal and it is hardly something that could be expected of lay people.

    Having a rule that nobody obeys creates cynicism. Over ninety percent of Catholics ignore this instruction on contraception. If human experience isn’t relevant to Catholicism, then Catholicism will become irrelevant to human experience.

    The logic presented in favor of opposing contraception here is pure concoction. It makes as much sense as saying people wearing seat belts don’t experience the true consequences of driving. People who wear clothes don’t experience true communion with God’s own weather. People who get medicine don’t experience true communion with health and illness. It is just drawing lines in the sand for the sake of drawing lines in the sand.

    [In truth, the church has a more than "adequate" and mature understanding. She simply has not taught it well. Ever. We should not all have to be attuned mystics to understand the value of celibacy, virginity, self-restraint and discipline, but the WAY things have been taught - in a dumbed-down manner meant to be understandable to the "lowest denominator" - has reduced the profound understanding of many to "don't do that, it's dirty, it's a sin," and caused many to turn away because of it.

    The Catholic church teaches some things magnificently, and other things very poorly, indeed. But then again, this institution - though existing through the grace of the Holy Spirit - is still administered by faulty, imperfect humans, and has been from day one, when Christ gave Peter the keys. The church, like Peter, still constantly alternates between thrilling sublimity and moments of "doh!" - admin]

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    Having a rule that nobody obeys creates cynicism. Over ninety percent of Catholics ignore this instruction on contraception. If human experience isn’t relevant to Catholicism, then Catholicism will become irrelevant to human experience.

    Yes, it is clear that the Church must bend to the whims of the age if it is to remain relevant.

    It is foolish for the Church to have rules that nobody obeys. Just like it is foolish for God to have rules that over ninety percent of humanity ignores. If the human experience of sin isn’t relevent to God, then God will become irrelevant to human experience. Clearly, God must change His rules to accomodate humanity’s desire for sin!

    Of course, part of the problem is that God and the Church really are not all that concerned with winning popularity contests and filling the pews. God and the Church are way too much obsessed with things like truth.

    It is past time to sweep away such childish things and, instead, give in to human experience.

  • http://thecatholiclibertarian.blogspot.com amcalabrese

    Is it me or has there been a big increase in interest in Flannery O’Connor lately?

  • http://theanchoressonline.com TheAnchoress
  • copithorne

    Thanks for your comments, Anchoress. I agree that the resources for a mature celibacy do exist in the Catholic Church. But it is very rare. In most cases the Church’s teachings on sexuality are hard to distinguish from ‘It’s dirty and shameful. Fifty years ago and more, the Church’s teachings was explicitly “it’s dirty and shameful” and by no means has the Church fully overcome that destructive legacy.

    For conversation, I would say that the resources that are needed are yogic. In Indian religious traditions there is an understanding of how sexual energy works in the body and how sexual energy can be transmuted to spiritual purposes. There has to be an understanding of sexual energy as a positive force which can be channeled into the spiritual life. As it is, the Church comes across as advocating repression as much as transmutation.

    The most effective witnessing, Bender and Anchoress would be to witness to your own uses of celibacy and the role it plays in your spiritual lives. I presume neither of you use birth control or you are celibate. These circumstances are exceedingly rare. I would think that people who sincerely take up that practice would be marked by humble knowledge of the difficulties and challenges of the practice.

    But again, there will be a bottom line that if the Catholic Church does not listen to people then people will stop listening to the Catholic Church. There isn’t going to be a revolutionary breakthrough in the Church’s teachings whereby more people abandon birth control and take up celibacy. It is possible that you do not mind belonging to a smaller Church. My own opinion is that the ground the Church is defending here is not worth defending and that the ministry of the Church would be better served by teaching practices and disciplines that can be practiced and understood more widely.

    [I have something going on and must attend to it so cannot give a lengthy answer here - but I have written elsewhere on the blog about the value of chastity and virginity (I can think of here and here offhand). I know I've written more about it and sexuality throughout the blog but cannot think of where just now. As to "you do not mind belonging to a smaller Church" you say that as though it was a bad thing. I'd rather belong to a church that teaches "the truth throughout the ages and trends" (which are always evolving) than one that teaches "the ages and trends throughout the church." Such a church will have to continually have to "adapt" and it's very difficult to suggest you have the "truth" when it keeps changing every year. The Churches who have "adapted" to the times tend to be the ones that have bled-out membership (Methodists and Church of England come immediately to mind). The Church has a responsibility to hold up the ideals - and yes, to teach them better - but even if she teaches them badly (and Chesterton said a thing worth doing was even worth doing badly) the constancy of the ideals must be maintained or she is nothing, and everything she has said for the last 2000 years is garbage.

    I'm sure Bender will agree with me here (although he agrees with me so seldom) in that a "smaller, more fervent" church is where we are headed. I have no doubt that there will be a "schism" within the next few decades that will find an "American Catholic Church" formed (Cardinal Mahoney will probably be its titular head) which will look quite a lot like the Church of England or the Anglican church - rites, rituals, "sacraments" etc, and it will even have the imprimatur of the government insofar as it may - and it will be a church that the majority flock to; it will be seen by many the "victory" over that stuffy old, stubborn Church of Rome - people will go on Oprah and talk about "I always loved God but I never felt accepted, but this enlightened American Catholic Church tells me what I need to hear, that God loves me and that divorce, abortion and all that stuff doesn't matter as long as I am a good person, and I AM a good person, I AM, and now I am accepted, Oprah, and (weep weep) I feel like God finally makes sense in the world!"

    "That's right," Oprah will declare, "there is no sin, except the sinfulness of not loving the self! God doesn't make junk!"

    Applause, applause. The only ideal that matters is the one that makes you happy and doesn't challenge the status quo.

    Quite different from what Archbishop Romero or Archbishop Dolan are saying here, though.

    And the Church of Rome will probably be sued into seeming non-existance, too, for one political point after another. The church will be declared in extremis. And that is when the remnant will kick in.

    There will always be a remnant.

    The Roman church will become very much smaller, I think. I'm not afraid of it. In America, of course, the idea of "bigness" is conveyed as superior. But then we've all always known that 'bigger" is not especially "better." ;-) - admin]

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    copithorne –

    I don’t mean this to be harsh, although it may sound that way, but are you living in 1974? Have you not read anything written or heard anything said from the Magisterium and many bishops, priests, theologians, apologists, and catechists in the last 35 years?

    It is true, back then, probably most people in the Church could not accurately tell you the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, and the appearance probably was that the Church taught that “sex is dirty,” but that was largely part of a widespread confusion regarding all of the Church’s teachings, dogmatic theology as well as moral theology. And part of that was also due to Pope Paul being stunned and disheartened by the vicious attacks on him following Humanae Vitae.

    But even a cursory review of magisterial writings since, oh, say, October 1978, clearly demonstrates a very clear presentation of teachings on human sexuality in a very positive light, i.e. “sex is good,” not a negative light, and these writings have very systematically demonstrated that these teachings are what they are — they could not be anything but what they are — because they are grounded, not in opinion, but in truth. Scriptural truth, anthropological truth, scientific truth, moral truth.

    These teachings have not been hidden. So it is quite puzzling to read comments such as yours that, quite frankly, seem to be stuck in a time warp.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    although he agrees with me so seldom

    Argggghh! I’m sure that was written tongue in cheek, or whatever the equivilent is for fingers typing on a keyboard.

    We all know, for the record, that it is seldom that I disagree with our dear Anchoress.

    Or maybe it is like my grandmother, who makes me Christmas cookies each year, but each year sends me these nasty anise-licorice cookies. And when I tell her, “Grandma, thanks, but remember I don’t like these?” and she replies, “Oh, I thought you said last year you did like them.” — She remembers the conversations clearly, but she remembers them exactly backward.

    And, yes, a “smaller, more fervent” Church is quite likely our future. There is an increasing awareness that numbers don’t matter. Truth matters. A large church in error is not and should not be anyone’s goal.

    [Ah...perhaps I meant, "he agrees with me, often, but is very often so grouchy when he does it, that it feels like disagreement! ;-) - admin]

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    “he agrees with me, often, but is very often so grouchy when he does it, that it feels like disagreement”

    Hey, it’s the Age of Obama. What’s there to be all chipper about?

    – Bender the Grouch

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    copithorne –

    As Pope Benedict has said
    Christianity, Catholicism, is not a collection of prohibitions: it is a positive option. It is very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today. We have heard so much about what is not allowed that now it is time to say: we have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it is in this way that marriage develops, first of all as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then, the family, which guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. . . . The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

    Or, as I have written elsewhere –
    . . . Catholic moral theology is positive, not negative, and it is “good news” that is grounded, first and foremost, in Truth and Love. It is grounded in reason. And it is all of these things even if you never actually use the words “Christ” or “God” or “sin,” such that it is applicable to believers and non-believers alike.

    All of Catholic moral teaching, including the teachings on human sexuality and life issues, is reducible to the supremely positive commandments which were discussed between the Jesus and the Pharisee – “You shall love the Lord thy God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And, again, as Jesus said to the Apostles, “love one another. As I have loved you, so too should you love one another.” Those are the teachings of Christ and His Church in a nutshell. This is our general vocation – to love God and one another in truth. Christ does not present us with a set of prohibitions and restrictions – He give us joyous Good News, He gives us truth and thereby sets us free. Notwithstanding the way it may have been presented or understood at times, Catholic moral teaching, properly understood, is intensely positive, not negative. . . .

    Far from thinking that sex is bad and dirty, the Church teaches that human sexuality is a moral good; indeed, it is very good, it is one of the highest goods. Being created by God, sex is necessarily a great good. But sex, like any other activity, is a good only insofar as it is consistent with Truth and with Love, that is, when it is consistent with a total gift of self, recognizing both the unitive and procreative aspects of human sexuality. In other words, in the context of marriage and without the barrier of contraception or even a contraceptive mentality. . . .

    (not to toot my own horn, but more here)

  • stephanie

    Very interesting hypothesis. It pretty much assumes, though, that this period of profigacy is unique to our times, which as a historian I can say is not true. One of the reasons the practice of marriage came about when it did was because of the sexual freedom practiced in the dark ages- too many women and children were being abandoned, and required Church support. Thus the Church created the sacrament of marriage, and began preaching against such behavior (around the 7th century I believe, but my timing may be off. It’s been awhile!).
    Prior to the Church, of course, there is the example of the Romans- but there are many examples, such as the one above, in the christian era. Sexual profligacy is not new, and existed even before the era of birth control.

    [Actually, Christ himself instituted the sacrament of marriage - in the Christian understanding - and he was very clear that "what God has joined, no one may part." In fact that is rather the basis for Catholic annulment - the question is asked, "was this a truly 'sacramental' marriage, ie, something God had joined, or were issues of honesty, psychology or maturity such as to bring into question whether the sacrament was truly imparted." Im' not going to get into a bit thing about annulments, here. I'm just saying that the sacramental nature of marriage was in play long before the dark ages, and of course marriage existed in other cultures and religions, etc. etc. Sexual profligacy is certainly not new, and it is never "under control," because the God-inspired co-creative urge is itself a powerful part of God, and it churns within our inmost essence. That is actually precisely why there is so much power to celibacy and virginity - that enormous and partly divine energy is not spent but subsumed and used in different ways. Christians, in particular, have a great deal to think about on this issue, because marriage is partly a reflection of the covenant between God and humanity, and the creation of our foreskins and hymens (and the shedding of blood that occurs at circumcision and on the old-fashioned wedding night were part and parcel of the idea of covenant. But you all know this - I've said it before! I really have to get back to work! :-) - admin]

  • copithorne

    This conversation may be a little stale, but I thought I might say a few words about an area where we might have more agreement. I do think the celibacy requirement for priests and monastics is a tradition that supports the depth of the Catholic Church. It is a depth that I do experience as missing from – as Anchoress notes – the Methodists or the Anglican/Episcopalians. It is a statement that a contemplative life of service is a complete and joyful possibility.

    So, I get the basic concept that the Church can take some counter cultural stands and have it be a great gift.

    I would say in the end that Truth is measured not by rules and beliefs promulgated from the Curia. It is measured in hearts converted to, and transformed in, Jesus Christ. This conversion and transformation is not something mysterious and inscrutable. It is something we can see and feel and have confidence in, even as it does not have only one single form of expression. And the job of the Church is to serve as a shelter and a community for this conversion and transformation to occur.

    [Well said. I would only add that part of the church's role as "shelter" requires that she does not shift with every prevailing wind! - admin]

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