Friday, May 13, 2011

If everyone in the world were Catholic ...

Simcha Fisher has posted an excellent takedown of people who react badly to her having eight children, especially since Number Nine is on the way. Her point, boiled down, is: “They’re my kids, not my political manifesto! Get over yourselves!”

Amen, sister! Testify!

While most of her followers (I’m one of maybe three men; the rest are all mothers, mostly of four or more children) extended their congratulations, commiserations and occasional “Hey, I’m pregnant too”, one — Mary, a woman trying to work her way out of atheism — had this thought:

I think the issue is not: whether your adding more people to rural NH is going to overwhelm the world, but rather that [the Catholic Church] puts forth doctrine that basically always calls more children (rather than less) as a blessing, deems a mortal sin as using any method of contraception (including coitus interruptus as they talked about in the article you referenced) or having a contraceptive mentality even within a committed marriage.
Personal choices have global repercussions when they are adopted globally. … Behavior only has consequences when it is amplified by many adopters. You know this. If everyone suddenly converted to Catholicism and practiced it according to doctrine, there would be a birth explosion, and you know that.

Some clarification: There was a reason people jokingly called coitus interruptus “Vatican roulette” — it was acceptable but not very efficient. [Correction: As Arbobius of Sicca points out below, coitus interruptus was not accepted; what was acceptable was the old "rythm method", which only looked at the calendar and not at anything biological. That was what people called "Vatican roulette"!—TL] The Creighton method of natural family planning (NFP) is also acceptable; whether it’s truly more effective than the Pill as is claimed … well, it’s better at least than CI. So strictly speaking, family planning isn’t a mortal sin.

The Pill is morally questionable because it has an abortifacient property; if an ovum is fertilized, it often can’t properly implant in the uterine wall. In fact, any contraceptive which has such a deadly effect on fertilized ova is verboten. Condoms, on the other hand, are considered wrong because it interposes a barrier between the flesh of the conjugal partners, not just physically but spiritually as well. (You see? Gratification isn’t irrelevant … it just needs the proper context!)

So if the Catholic Church does find a couple of contraceptive practices acceptable, then what do we mean by the “contraceptive mentality”? Let’s say scientists came up with an effective version of the Pill that didn’t have an abortifacient aspect to it … would that be acceptable?

No. The term “contraceptive mentality” refers to that mindset which treats marriage, sex and reproduction as separate entities with little to no reference to each other, rather than as an integrated whole. Moreover, it’s often found in connection with a mindset that regards childbearing and parenthood — especially motherhood — as positive evils. That's what contraceptives do: They split "sex" off into its own domain, which is unrealistic and unwise. [H/T to John for the correction.—TL]

Natural family planning has the merit of making the marriage partners work through their attitudes about themselves, each other, their marriage and children; while contraceptive devices and chemicals almost encourage carelessness and even risk-taking … especially when it’s promoted (deceitfully) as “safe sex”.

Now that we have these clarifications out of the way, we’re in a better position to analyze Mary’s objection. Certainly, personal choices magnified globally have global repercussions. The problem is, the analysis looks only at Catholic sexual teaching and ignores the rest of its doctrines.

“If everyone suddenly converted to Catholicism and practiced it according to doctrine,” employers would pay living wages; in fact, workers would have some ownership in the means of production, as well as a share of the profits. Everyone would have more than adequate access to food, shelter and decent health care. Both renewable and non-renewable resources would be much better distributed, and better stewardship of natural resources would result.

There would be some loss of GDP as less money were spent on law enforcement (unnecessary, as everyone would obey laws that would all be just), military (unnecessary, as whole nations would find peaceful means of settling their differences), and luxuries (wouldn’t necessarily disappear, just less demand). The legal profession would be limited to arbitrating disputes, which wouldn’t pay nearly as much as lawsuits. On the other hand, teachers would be paid much better, and the money now being spent on researching weapons would be redirected to other socially useful science.

There might still be a gap between rich and poor, but not nearly as wide, and the poor would be better provided for. The greed, sloth and gluttony that drives a big portion of our resource consumption would be — well, not gone but under far better control. People would refrain from sex outside of marriage, reducing the transmission of STDs to zero; there would be no such thing as illegitimate, unwanted, abused or neglected children. Best of all, there would be little to no need for government intervention to make this happen, because it would all be grass-roots … hell, there’d be very little need for government!

In other words, if all seven billion of us started practicing all the doctrines of the Church, the presumed grounds for population control wouldn’t even obtain. Catholicism, thoughtfully and rigorously implemented by universal consent, would create the “workers’ paradise” Communism never could.

You must understand I’m not saying this is ever gonna happen. Even if Catholicism were imposed as the only permissible religion world-wide and its practices made mandatory, human failings would subvert it. There would still be injustices, inequities, injuries, misery, sickness and starvation precisely because Catholicism is true: man is a fallen creature, capable of good but prone to evil. Or, as G. K. Chesterton put it, “The Catholic Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

Personal choices, multiplied globally, do have global repercussions. That’s why we have laws. Moreover, that’s why the Church puts such a premium on chastity, marital fidelity and continence: because sex is a choice, not a requirement.

Now, if only we could get the rest of the world to see it that way ….


  1. Amen. Very well reasoned and spoken.

  2. I always thought "coitus interruptus" was the method commonly known as "Withdrawl" which I believe is not permitted.

    Are you referring to the old Rhythm method by any chance?

  3. @ Arnobius: Y'know, now that I think about it, you're right. It's been so long since the old "rythm method" has been part of the discourse, I mentally elided it with CI. Correction will be posted. Thanks!

  4. Just a clarification concerning the Church's teachings on methods of contraception. NO method of contraception is licit, while methods of abstaining from sex during fertile periods are allowed. The reason contraceptives of any sort (condoms, the pill, sterilizations, etc) are not allowed is because it corrupts the nature of the marital act - it separates it's unitive and procreative properties. You can either have both of those joined in one act, or you can have neither (ie have sex without the use of contraceptives OR refrain from having sex). The pill is immoral because it deliberately frustrates the conjugal act, not because it is abortifacient. Even if there were a contraceptive pill which was not abortifacient, it would still be immoral to use because it is a contraceptive. Just wanted to clarify that.

  5. John: Thanks for the input. Still comes to the same point — the contraceptive mentality treats sex, marriage and reproduction as three separate things rather than an integral whole.

    There's another purely pragmatic level which I didn't fully address here. I did say that NFP forces the couple to think through everything, while artifical contraceptives encourage laziness. One side of this dependence on the chemical safety net is that greater risks are taken, increasing over time that the woman will become pregnant before she's ready for it, as well as increasing risks of STD infection, heart problems and cancer. However, that was a little off the beaten path; the point is, Catholic sexual morality is about making intelligent choices before the fact.

  6. If everyone were Catholic there would not need to be a population explosion. There is something called celibacy. People should only get married when they are ready to have children. But who says most people should get married? I could envision a society where the majority are consecrated celibates and a minority who have the gifts for child rearing raise large families. The net effect might be stable population.

    Remember, celibate people need not be a financial drain on society. They typically are now but as their numbers grow they start to produce more than they consume. There were times when most teachers and nurses were nuns or brothers. Society boomed because of all the free education and health care.

    Catholicism can scale up. That is not the problem. Atheism can't. Atheism leads to extinction. Just contraception and abortion put society in a death spiral. But then you have their pesky tendency to engage in genocide.

  7. @ Randy: You're quite right, my brother. It was just last March that the study came out showing adolescent atheists and liberals had marginally higher average IQs. Funny how all these bright people are trying to convince us to drink the Kool-Aid ....


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