Welcome back! It’s Day 5 in our weeklong series on natural family planning (NFP). This post is linked up with NFP Link Week hosted at the blog NFP and Me.
DISCLAIMER: This series is meant to inform and spark conversation about the Church’s teaching on respect for human life. While these answers are in-line with Catholic Tradition, they are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. We are not bioethicists nor moral theologians and do not claim to speak on behalf of the Church in answering them. For more information, dive into resources provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. **Special thanks to Fr. Albert Bruecken, Conception Seminary College, and Adam Storey, Director of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Des Moines, for sharing inspiration, ideas, and words for this series.
According to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average size of the American household has decreased by about one person. American culture is definitely voting for the smaller family and material well-being over the riches of multiple children. If any culture can materially afford big families, it is ours. Even from an economic point of view, the United States is powerful not because of its standard of living or its natural resources, but because of its greatest resource: people.
The medieval theologians and philosophers, in talking about God, say: Goodness diffuses itself, it wants to be shared by many. If our culture is so good, then why don’t we want to have more children and share it with them?
It’s a question we’re pondering today, on this forty-fifth anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), which reaffirmed the Church’s constant teaching on the regulation of births. A widely misunderstood papal document, Humanae Vitae immediately sparked dissent among many Catholics, especially in developed countries. That dissent lingers still today. With the passage of time, however, it has also proven prophetic. Pope Paul VI cautioned that four major problems would arise if the Church’s teaching on the regulation of births was ignored. What follows is a thumbnail sketch of each.
1 — Marital infidelity and indiscriminate sexual promiscuity will become cultural norms.
Since the mid 1960s, the rates of the following have all increased: abortion, divorce, wife and child abuse, venereal disease, and out-of-wedlock births. The nuclear family is no longer the cornerstone of society as it once was. Is this solely due to the birth control pill? No, but it is undeniably a major factor as the pill is the foundation upon which the sexual revolution was built. Love-making and baby-making are no longer synonymous.
2 — The objectification of women will become epidemic.
Despite the routine criticism that Holy Mother Church is anti-woman, Humanae Vitae warned of the sexual exploitation of women long before the message even entered the cultural mainstream. While artificial contraception has been hailed as a great agent for liberation of women, the real effect has been to liberate men from responsibility of their sexual conquests.
3 — Governments will be allowed to assume responsibility for family planning.
This is truly a humanitarian crisis. Stories of forced abortions and baby dumping abound in modern day China whose government recently reaffirmed support for its long-standing, one-child policy. Such population control initiatives are a routine part of foreign aid discussions. The massive export of contraceptives, abortion, and sterilization by developed countries to the third world is a thinly-veiled form of population warfare and cultural engineering.
4 — People will develop a false sense of control over their bodies giving rise to a narcissistic me-centered culture.
At the heart of contraception is the belief that fertility is at best an option and at worst a disease which must be cured, with a developing baby viewed essentially as a parasite. In this attitude, the organic link between contraception and abortion becomes clear. If the disease of fertility can be prevented, it should be; if not, its effect (new life) must be removed like a malignant tumor. Either way, the potential for bearing new life, a defining element of a woman’s identity, is recast as a weakness. In this regard, “Woman becomes the object of the tools she relies on to ensure her own liberation and defense, while man takes no share of the burden,” according to Archbishop Charles Chaput.
As author Neil Postman observed in his book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, technological change is not additive but ecological. A significant new technology does not “add” something to a society; it changes everything. Contraceptive technology, precisely because of its impact on sexual intimacy, has subverted our understanding of the purpose of sexuality, fertility, marriage, and human relationships in general.
So let’s revisit that key question from earlier: If our culture is so good, then why don’t we want to have more children and share it with them?
Up tomorrow in the series: one spouse is interested in practicing natural family planning and the other is not. Then what?
Links to other posts in this NFP series: