You gotta love Pope Francis. First, he does seem like a decent guy. Apparently he’s got quite the background, including being a bouncer at a tango bar. And he does seem to genuinely care about the poor and downtrodden, which is more than can be said for many of his predecessors. He can certainly say grand things like this: “I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets,” the Pope said, “rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Very nice.
But mostly you have to like how his honest pronouncements underscore the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church™, Inc.
First he explained the rationale of the Charlie Hebdo terrorists perfectly (If you say a bad word against my mother you have to expect a punch.) Then he exposed the notion of Catholic exceptionalism in his “ideological colonization” comment (We can convert at the point of a sword, but if you contradict our ideas, that is wrong.) And finally his bit about that family planning must be sensible and Catholics don’t have to wear their insanely large families as some sort of badge of honor. Let’s look at the hypocrisy behind that one, shall we?
The situation among Catholics has always been like this, you can certainly limit the number of children you have, but the only way to accomplish this is, essentially, “don’t have sex.” This situation has come about by a combination of anti-sexual feelings and misogyny. There are lots of theological “proofs” of why artificial birth control is bad, but basically it boils down to the syllogism: God made us the way he wants us, sex makes babies, therefore god only wants us to have sex to make babies. They then add to that the slippery slope argument that if it were not for the punishment, um excuse me, the possibility, of having children people would be screwing, like, well, rabbits. And of course we can’t have that, cause sex is icky, or however you say that in Latin. I’m sure Aquinas must have used the phrase.
One of the ways the Church gets to its ideas of what is moral is the argument from “natural law” that is to say, looking around at nature and seeing if we can discern the mind of god there and deducing his laws. So, let’s look at nature and leave aside the presupposition that sex is “icky” and see what happens.
First, we know now that during orgasm humans release oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” that helps create social bonding. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that sex is bonding experience between human beings. When we look at our closest relative in nature, bonobos, we find a creature that explicitly uses sex for social bonding. In Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan claims that humans have about 1000 sex acts for every birth, the same ratio as chimps and bonobos. Even if you complain that is AFTER birth control and therefore not “natural” cutting the number in half or even reducing by three quarters still makes point, sex is not just about making babies. Sex is about social bonding. Therefore sex strengthens marriages. Therefore more sex is better than less. In addition to be be 100% fertile during our “breeding years” god gives a complete pass after menopause. Years and years of sex without “consequences.” Thank you god!
If more sex is better than less in a marriage and we have the responsibility to only bring children into the world that we can care for, artificial birth control is a no brainer moral good. It strengthens relationships and prevents the moral evil of children who can’t be properly cared for. Hard to make that any clearer. In the United States, the people in the pews (or who should be in the pews) agree with this kind of logic: 82% of Catholics say that birth control is morally acceptable in a 2012 Gallup poll. A 2002 position paper by Catholics for Choice indicates that Catholics in many countries around the world use “modern” birth control at about the same rates as their non-Catholic neighbors.
And as the for the argument that it is “unnatural,” I say, meh. Using modern medical technology is perfectly OK in other areas. You don’t usually hear the church arguing that cancer is part of god’s plan and you have to be open to whatever god gives you, so therefore chemotherapy is “unnatural” and shouldn’t be used. Catholic hospitals dispense barrels of chemotherapy and not a drop of birth control. I don’t know why it is acceptable to interfere with “god’s plan” in one way but not the other.
Now it is true that birth control does introduce a possible moral hazard. It is not immoral by itself, it might induce people to engage in “immoral” behavior because of the protection offered. This is the same kind of moral hazard that can be created if you over insure your property. If your insurance was going to provide you with a brand new car, you might not be so careful about locking it up when you park. Or even actually leave the keys in it. In the same way birth control might induce people to engage in sexual activity knowing they won’t be “punished” with children.
First of all, the idea of children as punishment is abhorrent, but it is the logical end point of the church’s position. Children are the “consequence” of sex that has to always be “accepted.” Which is OK if you really want a child. Otherwise it sounds like “punishment.” Second we know that people are going to engage in sex outside of marriage no matter what we do. And pregnancy is not the only consequence of such activity. There are plenty of other social and natural consequences for out of bounds sexual activity. Adding an unintended and possibly uncared for child adds a moral evil to the situation, literally punishing the son for the sins of the father. While god himself says this kind of “justice” is OK, if the courts started handing out sentences like this there would rightly be outrage. Besides, god himself created a similar moral hazard in all women. What is stopping them from getting it on with everything that moves after menopause? Sorry, the moral hazard argument is not compelling.
Like any other human activity, there certainly is a time and a place for sex. And it is right to have moral and societal controls on that activity. But in general, if we don’t start with the proposition that sex is “dirty” then it is clearly a good thing for humans to engage in in those times and places. Modern birth control allows couples to have more, worry free sex. Therefore it is a moral good. And the good that it does outweighs the moral hazard that it sometimes presents.
So, get with it Franky, birth control is pro-life because it allows responsible family planning as you said we are allowed to do, preventing uncared for children, while allowing couples to lead a better life, reaping the benefits of their active romantic partnership.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some things to attend to for the next couple of hours.