Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

More on Humanae Vitae: A Response to Eduardo

Expecting a response like Eduardo’s, I almost didn’t include in my post the reflections on the complicated family situations of the two young men.  Yes, at first blush and without being snarky, the reaction is maybe those creating the complicated family situations should have used birth control.  But, at second blush, maybe the answer is that they should have exercised self-control.

Here are the questions.  Has widespread acceptance of birth control contributed to a general lowering of moral standards in society as Paul VI predicted?  Has it contributed to a rise in infidelity?  Has it contributed to a lessening of respect for women by men?  We might rephrase this last one:  Has it contributed to an objectification of persons, both men and women?  If the answer is “yes” to any or all of these questions, then might it be conceded that possibly, just possibly, the Church has an insight into the human condition that has been overlooked by much of the rest of society, including many within the fold?

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I’m not sure that looking to Europe undermines the modest connection I attempted to make between human development and contraceptive use.  First, I think it is way too early to tell whether Europe’s social safety net (human development) is sustainable given a declining and culturally changing population. (As an aside for another day, I am not sure why the phrase "demographic suicide" has “some extremely unfortunate eugenecist overtones.”).  Second, although it appears that Europe has been more successful – maybe too successful for its own long-term good – in avoiding the “risk” of pregnancy in an era of sexual revolution than the United States, what is point to be drawn from this fact? 

Can’t we concede that a sexually and relationally “liberated” society with high divorce rates, high rates of children born out of wedlock, high rates of personal and material absenteeism by fathers, is bad for human development?  Aren’t these conditions related to a general atmosphere of self-indulgence predicted by Paul VI?  And, isn’t it possible that the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control with its illusion of giving us control over sexual lives has contributed to this atmosphere of self-indulgent autonomy where a 21 year old fathers three children by at least two women and a 17 year old has six siblings with four different last names?

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Eduardo concludes his post with this:  “I think I'd be willing to accept our president's current policy of official hostility to contraception (e.g., abstinence-only sex education, etc.) if the trade-off were a serious governmental commitment to human development among the poorest Americans.  Unfortunately, that deal has never been on the table, at least not during my lifetime.” 

In friendship, I offer two critiques of this statement.  First, if widespread acceptance of contraception is problematic, then why not embrace “abstinence-only sex education, etc.” regardless of what other people are doing or whether the government is serious about human development?  In other words, if “abstinence-only sex education, etc.” is a social good why condition acceptance of it on a trade for some other good?  Second, I want to note the state-centric nature of Eduardo’s concluding lines.  Whether or not the state is involved in the contraception business or abstinence business, we as individuals, professors, Catholics, spouses, parents, members of various communities, can acknowledge that today’s hook-up culture made possible by wide-spread acceptance of contraceptives is not healthy for many reasons.  Can’t we? 

Maybe I am naïve about this, but there shouldn’t be a left/right, liberal/conservative divide here.  We ought to be able to take a common sense look at society and acknowledge that Paul VI had some important insights into what would happen to a society that artificially uncoupled sex from the possibility of procreation. 

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Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

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