From Father's Desk
Forty Years in the Desert
This past Friday was the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, a document that stirred up a storm of protest during that most “enlightened” of times, the late 1960s. Humanae Vitae, of course, was Pope Paul VI’s message to the Church and the world that artificial birth control is contrary to natural law and thus immoral. That much of the pope’s letter is remembered, at least, but strangely there is a near deafening silence concerning the pope’s dire warnings about what would happen in a society where the Pill becomes normative.
Such a society is ours. What, though, exactly did the pope predict? “The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments,” recounts Mary Eberstadt in her article “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae,” fully available online at www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=6262.
Eberstadt’s contention, easily verified, is that all these dark predictions have come true and that social scientists themselves are making the connections between the situation we now have and the general use of contraception. Who, possibly, could challenge the obvious – that there has been a lowering of moral standards, a veritable hey-day for adulterers, a bottoming-out of respect by men for women, and the governmental meddling in reproductive technologies? But again, the salient point is that these “developments” are being traced by social scientists to the Pill. But the ridicule of Humanae Vitae still continues unabated with its huffs and puffs of indignation and shrill dismissal of the “mulish” adherence of the Roman Catholic Church – all but alone among Christians – to this ancient teaching, the soundness of which was even recognized by pagans of classical times.
Yet this ridicule is in spite of all the evidence, the evidence that the pope was right. As Eberstadt states it, this – the teaching of Humanae Vitae – is the one doctrine of the Church the world loves to hate. Our cultural elites almost unfailingly mention it as the evidence that the Catholic Church has a “lot of catching up to do.” Meanwhile, in other venues, they ponder aloud in the media of how to deal with the sad and tragic results of widespread contraception. And they never make – or refuse to make – the connection.
Eberstadt in her article mentions numerous studies, even by those not friendly to the Church, which connect social pathology and contraception; and I encourage you to read her full essay. Here is a telling example of what’s now being reported openly:
Consider the work of maverick sociobiologist Lionel Tiger. Hardly a cat’s-paw of the pope—he describes religion as “a toxic issue”—Tiger has repeatedly emphasized the centrality of the sexual revolution to today’s unique problems. The Decline of Males, his 1999 book, was particularly controversial among feminists for its argument that female contraceptives had altered the balance between the sexes in disturbing new ways (especially by taking from men any say in whether they could have children). Equally eyebrow-raising is his linking of contraception to the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, trouble in the relationship between the sexes, and single motherhood. Tiger has further argued—as Humanae Vitae did not explicitly, though other works of Catholic theology have—for a causal link between contraception and abortion, stating outright that “with effective contraception controlled by women, there are still more abortions than ever. . . . Contraception causes abortion.”
More telling than all is the testimony of those touted to be the chief beneficiaries of the Pill, women, whose unhappiness with things in these forty years of “liberation” is described most ironically by those most dedicated to contraception, modern feminists. Eberstadt notes that “[f]rom Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer on up through Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, feminist literature has been a remarkably consistent and uninterrupted cacophony of grievance, recrimination, and sexual discontent.”
Consider just what we have been told by the endless books on the topic over the years. If feminists married and had children, they lamented it. If they failed to marry or have children, they lamented that, too. If they worked outside the home and also tended their children, they complained about how hard that was. If they worked outside the home and didn’t tend their children, they excoriated anyone who thought they should. And running through all this literature is a more or less constant invective about the unreliability and disrespect of men.
“Mothers cannot afford to stay home with their children,” laments feminist Leslie Bennetts, writing in Vanity Fair, quoted by Eberstadt, “because they cannot trust their men not to leave them.” Just as Pope Paul VI warned. And this is only the beginning: the rest pretty much flows from this breakdown of the family, the social cost of which is evidenced all around us.
Early on in her article, Eberstadt reminds us of God’s response to stubborn human rebellion against His laws – “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” – but at the end, she acknowledges the irony and sadness of it all, that the Church, though proved right, is still ignored and vilified:
Yet instead of vindication for the Church, there is demoralization; instead of clarity, mass confusion; instead of more obedience, ever less. Really, the perversity is, well, perverse. In what other area does humanity operate at this level of extreme, daily, constant contradiction?... It really is all very funny, when you stop to think about it. So why isn’t everybody down here laughing.