Imagine a loving father has to leave his children for an extended period of time. He cares very much for his children and so before he departs he writes out careful instructions for his children to follow. The father communicates that if his directions are followed loyally, the children will flourish while he is away and as a result, become closer to him. If, however, his instructions are ignored or if the children alter the father’s instructions they will inevitably experience a grisly decline in which they’ll drift further away from the connection they once had to their father.
Suppose that after awhile almost all of the children found the father’s carefully laid out instructions too demanding to follow and began to loosen them. However, the oldest daughter remained insistent that the family keep the father’s instructions secure so as to heed the loving father’s advice over and above any outside influence. While the oldest child remained consistent to the father’s teaching she simultaneously experienced great angst and push back from the other siblings as they all embraced a new mode of thinking that cut in the opposite direction of the father’s instructions. Even with all this pressure to cave, the oldest child refused to alter the father’s directions. Here, the eldest daughter is displaying her loyalty and love of the father over and above popular opinion.
In this story, the oldest daughter represents the Catholic Church’s teaching on contraception and the other siblings represent the 30,000+ Protestant denominations that have endorsed the pop culture’s idea to embrace contraception. Only she (i.e., the Church) has remained faithful to the Father’s original instructions – especially on the teaching of sex. Today, we now come to the 50th anniversary of which this story took place.
In the summer of 1968, Pope Paul VI came out with his encyclical called Humanae Vitae (Latin for: Of Human Life). Arguably, no official Church teaching has been more hated, despised, and ignored by the culture than Humane Vitae. This encyclical came out during the height of the sexual revolution and the counter culture movement of the 60’s in which people cheerfully embraced liberation from traditional norms – especially from the Church.
Simply put, Humanae Vitae cautioned against the errors of contraception and outlined how contraception specifically blocked the Father’s instructions of what he designed sex for. The central argument of Humanae Vitae states that the integrity of the sexual act is the function of the coming together of the unitive and procreative dimensions. Therefore, the sexual act showcases the full exchange of complimentary natures of the sexes while at the same time remaining open to producing new life. In this, sex has the Father’s divine instructions embedded in it. When, through a deliberate choice a couple introduces an artificial block to this pro-creation, then they are doing something which violates the integrity of the sexual act and thereby stands opposed to God’s will.
Given that we stand several centuries from the Father’s instructions on human sexuality and we’ve been overly inundated by the pop culture’s twisting of these instructions, it is easy to miss them. However, as we examine key phrases we can begin to see that God’s original intention of sex is for life, and not merely pleasure.
Throughout the Bible, God leaves clues that man and woman must use their bodies specifically to create life and become parents. These clues are both direct and indirect. We see more of the direct instances in verses such as “be fruitful and increase in number” and “the two become one flesh” (see Genesis 1:28, 2:24, 9:1). More of these direct signs are expressed in the story of Onan in Genesis 38. Here, Onan purposely thwarted the life-giving aspect of sex by “spilling out his seed” and consequently died as a result (see Genesis 38: 8-10). Another such example occurs in Malachi where God revolts to one “covering himself” in the sexual act to prevent offspring (see Malachi 2: 15-16). Now, theologians agree the verse where God states to Malachi, “I hate a man covering himself . . . with his garment” is likely a reference to when man blocks the life-giving aspect of sex through contraception. And yes, contraception methods of “covering oneself” was a common practice even back in the B.C. era.
The indirect references of the errors in contraception are illuminated from the repeated references of blessings to those who are fertile and experience numerous children (see Deuteronomy 7: 13-14; Psalm 17: 14, 128: 3-4, 139: 13-16). Indeed, the Psalmist poetically describes children as a godsend that will give a man “arrows in the hands of a warrior . . blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (see Psalm 127: 1-5).
What Scripture does communicate is that it is considered a curse when someone is not able to have a child (see Exodus 23:26, Genesis 30:1). Indeed, Sara’s barrenness in Genesis 15-16 is viewed as a traumatic difficulty. Even more so, the Bible describes Israel’s disobedience as resulting in the misfortune of childlessness (see Hosea 9: 10-17) and goes so far to consider “damaged testicles” unable to produce life as an adverse defect (see Leviticus 21:20). What is also interesting is that castrated men that had been “fixed” were banned from the old testament worship (see Deuteronomy 23:1).
Another curious clue we see is in the instances where the Bible rebukes the use of “sorcery” (Galatians 5:20, Revelation 9:2, 21:8), the original Greek word used is “pharmakeia.” Scholars believe this Greek word better reflects the English translation of “pharmaceutical.” And if historians are accurate in that drinking certain potions was a form of birth control in the ancient world, then the Bible is making a close connection to rejecting any outside drug that prohibits the life-giving aspect of sex.
Conversely, the Bible is full of pro-children statements in which God saves women precisely through childbearing (see 1 Timothy 2: 11-15) as she receives great joy from bringing forth new life (see John 16:21). God consistently shows an outpouring of great favor to large families and desire from marriages to produce “godly offspring” (see Malachi 2:15) in which children are seen as a grand reward (see Isaiah 54:13, Proverbs 17:6, Matthew 8:10, Mark 9:37, Luke 18:16, Psalm 8:2, 112: 1-5, 113:9)
In fact, in his Theology of the Body John Paul II demonstrates that what is done by the body reveals the interior soul of that person. Therefore, when a man contracepts he is saying the opposite of what Jesus said. He is saying, “This is my body which is not giving up for you because I am blocking giving the seed of life.” When a woman contracepts she is saying the opposite of what Mary said. She is saying, “I do not fully receive you. Do not let it be done to me because I am blocking receiving the seed of life.”
Given the evidence that God’s instructions clearly show that sex is for life, our typical response is more of a “who cares” attitude. Many today will reject this Biblical idea as old-fashioned and frankly unnecessary in our modern times. However, to casually dismiss this teaching as “outdated” is to completely miss why the Father wrote out these instructions for his children in the first place. The reason God carefully implanted verses that illuminate the purpose of sex is for procreating life was to allow for human flourishing. It follows that if we change his formula, a major problem will ensue.
Here, we come back to Humanae Vitae in which Pope Paul penned prophetic predictions if society (i.e., the rebellious children) embraces contraception and removed the life-giving aspect of the sexual act. A couple of crucial quotes the Pope makes in section 17 are:
“Let them consider how easily this course of action [artificial contraception] would open wide the way for marital infidelity . . . and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings-and especially the young are so exposed to temptation that they need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”
Would anyone doubt that within the last 50 years, we’ve seen a weakening of the institution of marriage in which divorce and infidelity have dramatically increased? In fact, studies show that marriage infidelity is at 50% today in the U.S. while the divorce rate is hovering around 48%.
Moreover, can anyone seriously doubt that we’ve seen a lowering of moral standards the last 50 years in which love and lust have been totally reversed. If love is to use the self for the good of the other, sex is the standard vehicle in which this happens – by producing new life and simultaneously turning a selfish man and woman into a selfless father and mother. However, the predominant theme today is lust. Lust has now deformed the meaning of sex into using the other for the pleasure of the self in which the couple treats their relationship more like a transaction in which they both get something out of it.
When human beings begin, on our own terms, redefining the sexual act, we have placed ourselves on a steep and very slippery slope towards self-worship, in which the self now defines what everything means. Indeed, the cultural landscape today is full of self-absorption in which the person, or collectively, society gets to now play the role of god and apply definitions to things we didn’t even create.
Here is another piece of prophecy from Pope Paul on the negative consequence of contraception:
“Another effect that gives cause to alarm is that a man that grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and disregarding her emotional and physical equilibrium reducing her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
Today in our culture there exists a deep mistreatment of women in which women are mainly viewed as sexual objects. Just look at the recent sex scandal that includes Harvey Weinstein and others within the Hollywood world as well as the repeated sexual assaults on women. Yes, society is rightly outraged at the disrespect of women being viewed as an object, but I wonder how many have drawn the connection to contraception as Pope Paul did. See, if life coming from the woman in the sexual act is removed, now women are no longer viewed as life-giving but have been reduced to merely an object to be used to get pleasure. When you divide the tight nexus of marriage, sex, and babies then the sexual act very easily slides into a way a man can use a woman as an object for his pleasure and manipulation.
In fact, prior to the advent of the pill, a woman was viewed with great respect and was feared by flawed men because of her power and privilege to deliver life. Therefore, because of the woman’s immense life-giving ability, sex was a deterrent for the self-indulged man simply because he didn’t want to get her pregnant. But, take pregnancy out, now the self-indulged man can have his way with the woman. Therefore, we can laugh off the Church’s teaching as outdated and meaningless, however, in this encyclical, we see that if we followed the Church’s intuition, women would be more respected than they currently are.
Now here is a third prophetic statement from Pope Paul on what will likely take place with contraception becoming the norm.
“Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. . .Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”
Now, at the time people likely chuckled at the idea that the government would impose contraception or restrict how many children people can have. However, today we see in China how the government has enforced a “1 child policy.” In the U.S., the HHS mandate was mandating that even Catholic institutions would have to include in their insurance plans coverage for abortifacients and contraception. In fact, in 2015, the government had a lengthy court battle attempting to force the Little Sisters of the Poor to do just that. The Pope had the insight to see that your body does not belong to the government, it belongs to God as it bares his image (see Genesis 1:27). But, given contraception the state would now be able to overstep their bounds and have the power to tell people what they can and can’t do with their bodies and their fertility.
Indeed, there are many instances where contraceptives are pushed at people from all directions be it at school, the hospital, and countless other venues in which fertility and children are presented as some sort of disease to be avoided. Here, we see clear examples of the government and society at-large aggressively forcing their life prohibiting views down people’s throats.
This fact illuminates an interesting switch as to the idea of fertility. The Bible portrays fertility as a great privilege and joy. In fact, in 1 Samuel we witness Hannah profusely praying for a child. However, today it is the exact reverse as there exists a trend in which people are “praying” to not get pregnant. Sadly, society today views children as a penalty we need to avoid. Obama once said that if his daughter makes a mistake (gets pregnant), “I don want her punished with a baby.” Yes, really a baby is now a punishment? How sad.
Interestingly, our society has also become obsessed with consuming organic foods and working tirelessly to eliminate artificial chemicals that go into our bodies. Despite being all-natural in our food, we ironically demean the Church’s green method of managing pregnancy through Natural Family Planning and would rather embrace synthetic contraceptives that put harmful, unnatural chemicals directly into our reproductive organs. Indeed, the World Health Organization has consistently deemed “the pill” as a hazardous carcinogen that can lead to breast cancer (see here). As well, new research has revealed that use of the pill shrinks a women’s brain, causes greater moods of anger and “a strong correlation of symptoms of depression.”
The reason for the strange paradox where we embrace all-natural in everything except sex is because society is so fixated on the fact that people make sex that we have forgotten the more important and obvious fact that sex makes people. But, we’ve redesigned sex with contraception so that it no longer makes people, but merely provides us with brief, cheap thrills. However, as Mary Eberstandt articulates in her book, Adam and Eve after the Pill, this sexual revolution that redesigned sex has inflicted a tsunami of damage to the human experience that includes: increase in divorce, porn consumption, sex trafficking, STD’s, rape, drug and alcohol consumption, fatherless homes, abortions, gender confusion, and numerous other psychological issues.
In short, contraception has caused more harm than good. In fact, recent studies have made the connection that as contraception has increased the number of early miscarriages has increased. Here, research illuminates that long-term contraception likely causes miscarriages in that contraceptives (especially the pill) train the physiology of the human body to be a hostile environment for life. Even if one scoffs as the scientific correlation of contraception and miscarriages, the logical connection is tight and offers little room to escape. Logic communicates that if you tell nature no to life through contraception don’t be surprised if nature, in turn, tells you no to life through miscarriage. In this sense, nature is doing the very thing the contraceptive user does – blocks life. If anything this grim correlation should wipe the contraceptive smile off our culture’s face.
As a society, I think we’re now concluding that attempting to artificially turn sex from producing life to now only producing pleasure rather spectacularly backfired. Given this, the teaching in Humanae Vitae has been thoroughly vindicated. Here, the Church stands in position of the eldest child who wisely adores her loving Father’s teaching despite what others might think (see Psalm 119: 1-40).
Is this teaching popular? Of course not. But, as Catholics following what is true always supersedes what we want to be true.
I, myself, am the second youngest of 10 kids. Therefore, I thank God that my father had the wisdom to listen to the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae over and above the pop culture’s rather shallow message. My whole existence and writing this article is thanks to my parents adhering to the Church, while the Church, in turn, was dutifully listening to God’s instructions. Here, we see an instance where when one child listens to the Father’s instructions it results in many who flourish and become blessed. For this, I (and many others) give praise to Humanae Vitae on this 50-year anniversary.