Humanae Vitae turns 40

On this day in 1968 Pope Paul VI issued the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), and upheld the constant teaching of all Christian churches from the time of Christ until the 1930 Lambeth Conference, which prohibited artificial contraception. He was and still is widely riciduled for this, even though he (and the constant teaching of all Christian churches up to 1930) was right.

If you disagree (and I know that this means *all* my friends and *all* my family), please read Mary Eberstadt’s The Vindication of Humanae Vitae and see if it’s not just a little persuasive.

If you prefer a shorter piece that says basically the same thing, try Joseph Bottum’s blog post from today. Here is an excerpt:

Paul VI predicted, as well, that the institution of marriage would have trouble surviving “the conjugal infidelity” that contraception makes easy. Far from strengthening marriage as the Supreme Court seems to have imagined, the advent of birth control left marriage in tatters, as the sexual revolution roared through town. If many more people use contraception today than they used to—and do so certainly with less shame—then why have divorce, abortion, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and venereal disease done nothing but increase since 1968?


20 Responses to “Humanae Vitae turns 40”

  1. Skaught Says:

    I swear I’m not trying to start a religious battle here, but I think it should be noted that Joseph’s blurb doesn’t take into account world population increase. In 1968, the population was 3.5 billion which has now increased by 3.2 billion to an astonishing 6.7 billion people and that just might need to factored into his statement.

  2. Curly Says:

    Please explain how you would like me to understand your citation of the world’s population, and perhaps also what you think about the “demographic winter” that has descended on most of Europe, which promises to drastically depopulate certain countries within the next few generations.

    Here’s an article from the NY Times Magazine for you: “No Babies?

    And the caption from its opening photo:

    As the birthrate in European countries drops well below the “replacement rate” — that is, an average of 2.1 children born to every woman — the declining population will first be felt in the playgrounds.

  3. Mark Says:

    Skaught is obviously referring to global population, not just Western Europe. Although with increasingly “western” lifestyles taking hold globally, we can expect lower birthrates to spread. With an increased level of consumption becoming commonplace, it will be interesting to see if resources can support even a diminished population.

    The European problem may be a deeper set malaise that has little to do with access to contraception. Why are US birthrates still comparatively high in socio-economic groups similar to the least “productive” Euros? Maybe the vigorous Americans will be able to buy that villa in the south of France after all. Well, maybe if the dollar ever comes back. Will the Euro still rule if there aren’t any Euros? Probably.

    I would invite anyone who doesn’t believe in contraception to try to support a family of ten in Southern California. Best of luck, and may the papal countenance smile upon you, oh fruitful one.

  4. Curly Says:

    Hmmm, still no one who seems to have read the Eberstadt article . . . but so far one dose of the expected flippancy . . .

  5. Jon Says:

    I understand and concur that there is a moral problem with divorce. I do not buy into the bad logic that contraception leads to divorce and, therefore, Jesus thinks contraception is bad. What’s bad is the condition of our hearts. Cheating and divorce are caused by this… our sinful nature. Does contraception make cheating and divorce easier? Yes. So do mini-skirts, cell phones and motels.

    Is it the Church’s job to provide a moral compass to everybody? No. I think it’s fine if they’d like to provide Biblical and/or logical guidelines to their own members. But the Church’s job is to go and make disciples, helping to bring others into the grace and freedom that Christ provides… the freedom to submit to his authority and will and to receive his grace when we miss the mark. The Church is also there to provide a place and time for corporate worship, public confession, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, baptism and teaching from God’s word.

    Is it a Christian’s job to stand on a street corner and proclaim “I’m right and you all are wrong on this gray moral issue.”? I don’t think so. I don’t think that’s what Christ has called us to do. I know I am a sinner and I confess these things before the Lord. Not to inform him. He knows what I’ve done. But to seek after Him and His forgiveness. I’ll even confess these things to a brother in Christ who has my confidence because I know that he’s largely struggling with the same things. But I don’t think you’re benefiting yourself or the Kingdom by calling people out on a web site and passing judgment… a judgment that is not from God.

  6. Curly Says:

    OK, so nobody wants to read the article.

    RE: Jon’s ecclesiology, that of course is one big area we disagree on. If it is not the Church’s job to provide a moral compass, is it anyone’s?

  7. mark Says:

    You are right, I don’t want to read the article, it’s too long and I don’t have enough spare time at this particular moment. I guess I agree with you (Curly) for the most part, I think it is fine for the Church to provide a moral compass. That’s what I’d expect.

    But, my personal opinion is that 10 children in L.A. would be tough. Nothing flip there, just thinking of real people with real families and real bank accounts. If I were a Catholic, I’m sure that would be one of the Church’s positions I would choose to ignore. There are practical implications of adhering to these positions – good, bad, and financially ruinous.

    No time to read long, ponderous articles, but always time to spout off flippancies.

  8. Curly Says:

    So Mark’s position is: either birth control or 10 kids. No other option.

  9. Mark Says:

    Yup, that’s generally how it works, Curly.

  10. Curly Says:

    I was thinking perhaps an alternative would be the exercise of self control, in the context of Natural Family Planning.

  11. Mark Says:

    Unfortunately, NFP is very unforgiving of things like human physiology and the occasional miscalculation. Just one of those “mistakes” per year and you are at my 10 kid scenario rather quickly.

    It’s a nice idea and it looks fine on paper, but I would imagine that few Catholic families use NFP as their only method and manage keep their numbers down.

    Ultimately, I’m not Catholic and I don’t really need to worry too much about Humanae Vitae. But I do have married Catholic friends who have used artificial birth control. I’m sure that they did this for very practical reasons and not because they are lazy Catholics bent on violating God’s law. According to Mary’s article, these typical American “cafeteria” Catholics are a huge problem. What’s her solution here? Accusations of heresy and excommunication en masse?

    Her article makes some good points and I think she has a valid argument (for the most part), but the people she is railing against are for the most part good Christians who are trying to keep some measure of control over huge variables in their lives. That is unfortunate, and if there were more hardliners like Mary and yourself, I think your church would truly suffer. Luckily, Mary and I agree that most Catholic clergy at the local level are more practically minded and forgiving of their flock. She thinks this is a very bad thing, while I do not.

    Which brings me to her most ludicrous argument:

    “In fact, the disgrace of contemporary American Catholicism—the many recent scandals involving priests and underage boys—is traceable to the collusion between a large Catholic laity that wanted a different birth-control doctrine, on the one hand, and a new generation of priests cutting themselves a different kind of slack, on the other. “I won’t tattle on my gay priest if you’ll give me absolution for contraception” seems to have been the unspoken deal in many parishes since Humanae Vitae.”

    What? This makes me almost question her sanity. At the very least this stretches her argument far outside its limits and diminishes her credibility.

    Okay, as I’ve said from the beginning, a very practical explanation for Catholic adherence to doctrine such as Humanae Vitae is the fact that they want larger Catholic families. Mary even supports this idea:

    “Thus many Catholics complain about the dearth of priests, all the while ignoring their own responsibility for that outcome—the fact that few have children in numbers large enough to send one son to the priesthood while the others marry and carry on the family name.”

    So, yes, big families are desirable for the Church. Of course they are. Make more Catholics. This is what I’ve always been saying. I’m also saying that 10 kids would be tough in Southern California. That’s pretty much it. The place is really expensive…

  12. Curly Says:

    Popes have also written about the right to own private property, and about the rights of workers, but you wouldn’t dismiss those things merely because they were issued by a Catholic leader.

    Calling contraception a Catholic issue is a convenient way of allowing oneself to continue to to what one wants, without having to grapple with the consequences. You show signs of similarity to the social scientists Eberstadt cites: after attributing all manner of evils to the influence of universal contraception, they still conclude that it is a very good thing. Meaning, to hell with women’s natural cycles, relationships, families, the environment—I want sex on-demand 24/7/365, consequences be damned.

  13. Curly Says:

    BTW, I will assume if anyone comments specifically on Humanae Vitae, they will have actually read it.

  14. Mark Says:

    Yes, I have read Humanae Vitae. I can actually read long articles quite quickly when I want to. Thanks for checking on me, sir, I’ll be sure and make nice comments on your review at the end of this seminar: “Dr. Curly really takes the time to make sure we are preparing for class.”

    What I was saying is that as a Catholic directive, Humanae Vitae has less of an impact on me and my non-Catholic ilk than it does for married Catholics. It has nothing to do with other papal edicts that I may or may not agree with. Being a Protestant, I can dismiss parts of Humanae Vitae, not simply because they are issued by a Catholic leader, but because I think they are a misinterpretation of scripture. But Catholics need to deal with these things in a different way, if I understand catholicism correctly. Catholics are supposed to obey papal edicts, right? That’s why I’m concerned about your hard line. Unlike some Protestants, I respect and admire catholicism. More importantly, I treasure my Catholic friends and can empathize with their plight on this issue.

    And as for your last sentence, is that what I really said? Hmm, I don’t think so. One “mistake” in a year hardly amounts to “sex 24/7/365”. If that’s what you think Great Grandma Curly back in the old country was doing to get her 10 kids, I think you may have too high an opinion of hers and Great Grampa Curly’s libidos. “Women’s natural cycles” tend to produce a lot of children. It’s a function of Homo Sapiens . If we had the reproductive system of an African Bush Elephant, I’m sure that most Catholics would be happily on board with NFP. Then you and Mary would need to find something else to blame society’s ills on.

    You are sounding a little desperate now, Curly. No need for anger, just let go and accept that the Vatican wants big Catholic families. Personally, I think they are probably right, big clans can be great and it’s something that we will all miss in this age of families with one or two kids. But it’s also hard to pull off now that we’re no longer running farms or in a place where you can live comfortably on regular salaries with a ton of kids. I’ve made my point and I’m happy with it. G’night.

  15. Mark Says:

    And here’s something for you to read:

    Snippet: “Natural family planning is not as effective as most other methods of birth control. One in four women who use this method become pregnant.”

  16. Curly Says:

    I would ask you which parts of HV misrepresent which scriptures, but this is getting old . . .

    I am not desperate, just unable to understand why someone like you and the social scientists whom Eberstadt cites in her article are able to say that yes, the sudden descent of a contraceptive mentality, upon ever rank of society, has had terrible effects on families and on the relations between men and women generally . . . yet the benefits you derive from it counterweigh all those bad things. Proper reasoning leads to a faulty conclusion (faulty to my mind at least).

    (I may here object, belatedly, to Jon’s claim that contraception does not lead to divorces. It may be pure coincidence that divorce rates increased beginning in the 1960s, along with the increased availability of contraceptives. But one must also explain why so many fewer couples marry today than before. They live together, I believe, in large part because they don’t have to worry about bearing or raising children. I am interested in hearing how the alternative view is “bad logic.” I agree that our hearts are corrupted but disagree that a contraceptive culture is a neutral (or positive) factor where our actions in sexual relationships are concerned.

    Then again, I may be misreading you, and your true meaning may be that contraception does indeed lead to divorce, but that that fact does not mean that Christians should not use it. Which, if that your meaning, I also don’t understand.)

    As for NFP, it can be used to get pregnant as well as to avoid pregnancies. I regret that I came to the Catholic Church later in life, and am coming to marriage (if at all) even later, so (unless I rob a cradle) I will probably not be able to use my own experience as a test case. I understand the concern to be able to provide for one’s children, but do not understand the willing rush to sterilize sex with one’s spouse. Fertility is the defining characteristic of man/woman intercourse. With contraception as the norm, hetero sex becomes no different in principle from homo sex. (Or other unusual usages.) Of course, you and the other commenters here have more experience in marriage than I do. But the use of pills and surgery to sterilize our bodies is unnatural, and not in our personal best interests nor those of society at large.

    Well, I’m pretty much done . . . G’night.

  17. Mark Says:

    Well, we can agree to disagree, then! The question of why (in a practical sense) you have such strong feelings on this matter was a bit puzzling. But I get mentally involved in a lot of things that I don’t really have any practical relationship with, so I guess it’s along those same lines. It’s an interesting debate.

    The Church may be right about the ill effects of contraception, I don’t know. The point I was trying to make is that the Church and its teachings favor large families, and this is hard to pull off nowadays. Personally, I think that they have overextended the perceived ill effects of contraception to the point of being ridiculous.

    My views on this matter are partially informed by real people in my life. For the most part, these families exhibit none of the problematic effects of contraception you and the Church are concerned with.

    And I also have a hard time accepting that, were an infertile woman to marry and remain with a fertile male, that their sex lives would be “no different in principle from homo sex”. I know that the Church does allow dissolution of marriage based on infertility (am I totally wrong on this? I remember it for some reason…), so this would fit in with your theories (and by extension, mine contending that the Church is interested in large families). But this is just a truly sad thought. It’s not really the infertile woman’s (or man’s) fault that they are infertile, is it? Can’t they still live happily together as a married couple without making babies?

    If that is the Church’s opinion on such a matter then I am in total disagreement.

    Good afternoon. Seriously, though, it’s been an interesting exchange – thanks Curly!

  18. Mark Says:

    BTW, Curly, it’s not too late… You are a male! Thanks to our plumbing, we can reproduce well into our 70s! A 10 or 15 year age spread in a relationship is totally acceptable these days. Just find a nice, young catholic lass and get on board the baby train! Woo woo!

  19. Curly Says:

    I think I may take you up on that challenge, mein Freund . . .

    Not meaning to drag this on, but . . . The Church may be right, but also they are nearing the point of ridiculousness? If you are referring to the article I linked to, recall that most of her evidence for the perceived ill effects are coming from non-Catholics, and even wholly secular researchers. Maybe they’re being ridiculous too? But in that case I am not sure what you meant earlier by saying the article had a good argument for the most part.

    RE: infertility. No, that is not the Church’s position. It’s not the product that counts but the intention. Intentional infertility is blameworthy, no matter what the method (but I really don’t think “big families” is the driving cause behind this); but not unintentional. An infertile couple does not have to refrain from sex just because they are infertile—they still have the Church’s blessing. But two men using each other for sexual pleasure do not have the Church’s blessing.

    I really think you ought to provide your little one with at least one bro or sis . . . they’ll curse you for it in the short term but thank you in the long run! Woo woo!

  20. Mark Says:

    Thanks Curly – yes, we are hoping for another bro or sis at some point… It’s quite a treat, this whole family thing. So yeah, get moving…

    As for the ridiculous comment, I was mostly thinking of Mary’s point linking priests’ misbehavior to contraception. Again, I think that is a ludicrous statement. I should’ve made that more clear.

    My general position, as always, is that “things are complex” and that there is a lot feeding into society’s ills that may not have much to do with contraception. I will accept that it is playing a role, however. Also, thanks for setting me straight on the infertility thing.

    Ultimately, I still say that the Catholic Church wants big families. It needs big families. Mary made the point (I brought it up earlier too) that a small family (one or two kids) isn’t as likely to produce a priest. But a family with five kids might… Or ten kids, even! Sorry… Thanks for the debate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: