Contraception and Signs of Contradiction: Part II

by James Matthew Wilson on April 27, 2012 · 30 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Philosophers & Saints,Politics & Power

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The Yoke of Nature and Human Vocation.  When it comes to marriage and the having of children we experience these gifts, burdens, and yokes in ways few other aspects of human life impress with such obviousness.  Although the common sense of our day tells us to wait, first, for marriage, and, second, for the begetting of children, until just the right moment in our education and our careers, nature’s yoke sets us to craving these things independent of our particular present condition.  It encourages us to accept both as blessings, as gifts, that are given to us rather than as earned benefits to be used at our discretion or as contrivances mastered by and subject to our autonomous reason.  While nothing properly human does not involve the direction of the intellect, human reason merely cooperates in the good natural journey of a man and woman to their union, and in the gift of children given to that union.

Anything that conceals the essential feature of these things as gifts disfigures them.  Anything that turns them into events subject to our convenience or items subject to our use violates their goodness—it would be, in fact, a moral evil.  Anything that suggests the human reason generates its own laws, is an end in itself, or a possession or tool to be used or dispensed with constitutes a prideful failure in self-knowledge and a misanthropic renunciation of our humanity.

But many persons recognize the natural gift of marriage and children.  It may be precisely the unruly and unbearable grace of it all that awes them.  In these mysterious and central aspects of human life, we know we are not our own masters anymore—and for that very reason we elect to restrict the number of times we render ourselves so vulnerable.  We wish to serve others well, when we must, and not to, when we may.  It is easy to believe we can afford to provide for one or two children; we are busy and distracted by many things, but the early years of a child’s life, in which one must attend most intensely to him, are few in number.  With one or two children, those years will pass like a sweet, short stage, a tough but temporary job, in one’s life: a thing one does for a while, rather than a way one lives out one’s years.

Catholic tradition speaks of all persons as being ordained to a vocation.  So do our vocational schools, one might reply.  But by “vocation” that tradition does not refer to a career, a job, or the practice of a particular skill; it means rather one’s state in life.  To repeat the words uttered just above, a vocation is the way one lives out one’s life in the world.  Truth be told, there are only two vocations: that to married life, and that to religious life.  One either lives out one’s life contributing to the order of creation, to the continuance and growth of the city of man that is ultimately ordered to God, or one lives out one’s life in stuttering anticipation of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Within the former of these vocations, Catholics believe that the having of children is not so much a thing that one does once, twice, or a few times, as it is a way one lives, a state rather than a job.  Indeed, while we all have different gifts that suit us to this or that line of work, such incidental gifts are themselves of limited value in the scheme of our lives and are mere instruments of our calling to married or religious life.

Just as there are no solutions to the problem of life itself, as if one could stitch up this, that, and the other difficulty, and have thereby one’s life “solved,” primed to be lived out in empty felicity, so also there is no ready-to-hand closure to the life of the parent.  While the yoke of our natures and the genius of our reason helps us determine how many children for which we can properly provide, when we cease to think of parenting as a job or episode, we recognize that we do not have to be perfectly equipped with time, money, or emotional freedom in order to have multiple children.

The having of children entails not the bringing to perfection of a particular project, but the condition of not only accepting great gifts but dwelling with them as the condition or calling of our lives.  Thus, the Catholic vision of human life does not primarily differ from the common sense of our day regarding the number of children one should have, but the fundamental understanding of what marriage and children are—and what human life itself is.  We tend to deform this understanding when we misconceive marriage or parenting as a job and when we misconceive our jobs or careers as vocations.

Human Reason’s Confrontation of Natural Evil.  And yet, I have stated that Catholic teaching insists not only upon the intelligibility and orderliness of nature but the authentic and good role of human reason within that nature.  If we are not to conceive of nature as an unruly flurry of growth unless it be tamed and mastered by our reason, we nonetheless are the true possessors of our reason and have a responsibility to use it in accordance with Truth.  It might be better to say, rather, that we are the drivers of our reason who have a binding responsibility to see that it goes nowhere except according to the Truth that is its only real master.  If it were otherwise, we would not have reason but only will, and we would have no way to account for the everyday fact that we can only believe as true what we really believe is true.  Truth binds us at every turning of the stair.

And so, when a reasonable person sees young men and women marry and divorce; when he sees feels in his gut the great harm of illegitimacy to the single child and to society; when, further, he sees the spectacles of mass human poverty, of a world that seems to groan under the burden of feeding and clothing so many persons, even he who most instinctively adore the gift of children and would most readily submit his life to the vocation of parenting may be brought up short.

We all wish to be reasonable, and if reason tells the Catholic Church one thing and everyone else another, then what would seem to be in question is not so much the reliability of reason but the facts we think we know.  No one knows the poverty of the Indian slum or the wasting epidemics of disease in Africa better than the missions of the Catholic Church.  Does it not see the great suffering brought about by a surfeit of humanity?  Bodies crawling upon bodies?!  Food divided and divided by meager fingers, more bone than flesh?

It does.  And it stands as a sign of contradiction in saying that these lives are good, are good in themselves, and that the suffering and hunger and disease besetting them are evil, natural evils, to be combatted by any means that does not itself produce other and greater evils.

It told us that the desire to control fertility by technological means would not curb illegitimacy, reduce abortion, or strengthen the integrity of marriages.  To the contrary, it foresaw the age of contraception as a regime of broken and lonely souls ever more inclined to covet sexual contact and yet to abhor its natural ends; an age of increased illegitimacy, disease, abortion, and divorce.  And we have found to our cost that it spoke the truth.

The Church tells us that a people who, on the level of the individual family, misconceives its capacity to raise more than one or two children without robbing them of all the usual “advantages” is one that has probably mis-measured and misallocated the resources of the earth.  It has misjudged the very nature of the world’s growing population as a sign of over-population.  Such a people has, in fact, ignored every reasonable measurement that indicates that population has swelled, not because of too much fertility, but only in consequence of better rational means of combatting the evils of disease and hunger.

But, one asks, if we have found a way to fight, in some cases even to end, the hindrances of disease, do we not see that the incessant movement of Hobbes’s nature will take over once more?  We have, as a matter of fact, to deny that any such movement has taken over.  Demographic measurements indicate that we are more likely to face a graying of the world’s peoples than an unbearable fruitfulness of children.  Moreover, demographers calculate that the world’s population will be significantly smaller by the end of this century than it was at the beginning of it.  In a global sense, we cannot only afford but need more children.

Even so, should, in particular places, there be exceptions to this general rule, we must also recall that marriage is a vocation and children are a gift.  We are called to marriage, we are given children; the language of mastery, ownership, or rights has no place here.  Should particular circumstance require it, we may discover obligations to live not only chastely (as all persons must) but in celibacy.  The reason has a native technology of its own more effective than disfiguring chemical contraceptives, and more in accord with the easy yoke of nature—and that is the virtue of temperance.  Our age’s reliance on contraceptives as the solution to the problems of individual choice, social decline, and supposed overpopulation hardly indicates the proper use of reason to order our lives.  Once again, it speaks of reason’s abdication.  It has given up trying to restrain fertility by appealing to human beings as rational animals, and has elected instead to manipulate their bodies as if they were incorrigible automata.

“You yourself a sword will pierce . . .”  These are the truths that the Catholic Church, when it dares to speak, proposes for our assent.  The world is a created and intelligible good.  We, the rational animals, are a part of that natural goodness.  And, while our Hobbesian common sense encourages us to see in nature the specter of hideous, because endless, growth, reason may more justly note the intrinsically self-limiting character of all natures.  Everything seeks its proper good.  And yet, it is also the case that all natures engender in abundance.  For the Good is always self-diffusive, but not purposelessly so.  Like all good things, children come to us as gifts rather than as a bit of consumer merchandise or as a luxury item.   Our raising of them is a way of life not a mere hobby, episode, or project among others.

If the material world is finite, its scarcity is not located where we tend to perceive it; rather our focus has in some ways become maladjusted due to our own failure to accept the ordered goodness of the world on the terms on which it gives itself.

Every one of these claims seems to fly in the face of the common sense of contemporary life, telling us that what we take for good is not authentically good, precisely because we have failed adequately to understand the purposive character of nature.  We have, finally, failed in that understanding because we have refused to take on the full dignity and burden of our natures as rational animals: embodied creatures defined at once by our determined, limited bodily natures, and yet ordered to participate in the self-diffusive goodness of all that is, of all that God has made.

It would be a daunting summons to be a priest or a bishop under any circumstances.  It must be terrifying to have these truths within oneself and to know that much of the world is unwilling to hear it and some of it will turn upon you with rage.  But, in confused and angry days, it will be only he would can speak of the goodness of things—of the gifts of fruitfulness, reason, and life—who can truly claim to stand as a sign of contradiction.

When the aged Simeon called Jesus just such a sign to his mother Mary, he also told her that “you yourself a sword will pierce” (Luke 3:35).  So will the Catholic Church, so often called, Holy Mother Church, be pierced in these days.  But that is what she was born for.  To suffer for the knowledge of the one Good and the redemption of its many goodnesses.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar t e whalen April 27, 2012 at 10:11 am

This is interesting, and I would appreciate a bit more about “gifts” and the morality of refusing them. My general understanding of gift-giving is that it’s governed by social rules of politeness, rather than morality. If my co-worker wants to give me half of her sandwich, and I have my own reasons for not wanting it, it’s more a question of etiquette than morality, isn’t it? I’m not morally obligated to accept any and all gifts, am I?

I’m really not sure what’s doing the work in this analysis, as there doesn’t seem to be a general rule to use in determining which natural conditions are “vocations” and “gifts” which we must accept, and which are permissible to overcome or avoid.

avatar Dylan April 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Shall act on what seems apparently reasonable or follow God and those of power within the in the institution that speak for Him? To call the ability to give birth a gift grossly personifies God. It conjures an image of a man in the sky doling out special favours. Is “gifts” a metaphor for something more metaphysical? We cannot comprehend what comprehends us.

It would not seem a gift to an Irish women watching her house-full of children steal bread in famine to debase themselves for want of food…

In my view, we are all dogs at heart and any advancement has come on the back of civilization. Our hubris, especially as it relates to technology is an evil we deal with on a daily basis. But the atom bomb and resource booms have much more tangible negative effects. The evils of an intentionally small family seem vague at best and intentionally slanted to the male point of view at worst.

avatar Joan April 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm

The idea presented here, of contraception’s acceptance as a moral good being based on a definition of nature as amoral, meaningless and therefore available for our use in the pursuit of our individual happiness, as contrasted with the Church’s definition of nature as purposeful, good and therefore deserving of respect in alignment with our own divinely-inspired purpose, is a very beautiful one and true as far as it goes. However, I don’t think that’s what’s going on in the minds of married couples who consider themselves Catholic and participate in the life of their parish while choosing to contracept. Like any technology, contraception is a means to an end and thus is seen as neither good nor bad. Instead, the end to which contraception is the means and the pernicious false good which has shouldered its way in beside the real virtues are one and the same: the societal imperative of upward mobility.

We are called by the Church to bring up our children to be virtuous, a goal which is not out of reach for ordinary parents in the context of a community of virtuous adults providing the child with a great plenitude of examples, along with a religious education to inform their reason. The propaganda of modernity presses upon us a much harder task: to bring up our children to be “successful”. “To give them a better life than we had” was a noble goal for parents who had survived hunger, oppression and the terror of war. For upper middle class parents with multiple college degrees living in an affluent democracy that hasn’t been invaded in seven decades or imposed military conscription in four, it would seem rather neurotic to a dispassionate observer. And yet parenting in that segment of society revolves around maximizing the likelihood that the child will “be successful,” by which they mean either earn a six-figure income or do something less remunerative but more prestigious. (The pay is modest in most symphony orchestras, but the brag value for a musician’s parents more than makes up for it.) And raising children for this kind of “success” is far closer to doable if the children are few. The parents of large families may actually be accused of depriving their children of opportunity by having “too many”. Thus, a Church that opposes contraception must start by calling out upward mobility in the non-poor for what it is: the sin of pride in secular disguise.

avatar Stephen April 28, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Being “open to life,” as the Catholic anti-contraception argument phrases it, is indeed a wonderful thing. In an unfallen world, I suspect that people would not attempt to limit their number of children at all; creation would be abundant enough to provide for all our needs.

But the world IS fallen, and in consequence of this, there ARE times when people have to forego good things for the sake of something else. Sometimes one of those good things that must be foregone is an indefinite number of children. To put guilt on the consciences of those who are limiting their number of children for good reasons is wrong in these circumstances.*

Catholics recognize this when they talk about Natural Family Planning. So we see charts to plan out menstrual cycles, classes teaching these. But claiming that the use of medicine or other devices to limit your number of children is CATEGORICALLY different from rigorously planning out your sexual activity so as to limit your number of children is untenable. Both are science-informed methods aimed at CONTROL of the human body; why the presence of a physical object creates such a moral distinction is inexplicable.

I am skeptical of the anti-contraception camp’s blaming contraception for illegitimacy, social breakdown in sexual mores, etc., but I won’t get into that at the moment. But even if that sociological analysis were correct, to condemn good people who limit their number of children for good reasons for the sake of winning a culture war, is to turn them into pawns to be manipulated for some greater social utility. That is disrespectful of their individual value in the eyes of God.

*Of course, I do agree with the above posters that wealthy families limiting their children to one or two is wrong, and we should not identify the contemporary conception of “upward mobility” or more luxuries as things to justify having very small families.

avatar JonF April 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm

I cannot conceive why any moral tradition should have a problem with responsible and prudent behavoir in regards to when and how many children people have. Yes yes– “God will provide”. But if people took that attitude in regards to their health, their education, or their retirement, making no provision for such needs, we would call them fools. Likewise if someone had a female amimal as a pet and allowed it to breed with abandon. Children are no different. Responsibility and prudence are virtues in all areas of human life, and childbearing is not an exception.

avatar Anymouse April 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I assume you have heard of celibacy?

avatar Jon Cook April 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm

As a protestant I often find deep truths in official Catholic teaching, and their position on reproduction is one I find most compelling, and far more consistent than most teachings I hear from our side. But the previous poster is correct: the heart of weakness in this essay is the lack of mention of natural family planning, and if the gist of this essay is correct then NFP is as much a moral evil as any “artificial” contraception. It is having one’s cake and eating it to, which leaves my Catholic brothers and sisters in the same boat as us protestants. Might as well pick up an oar…

avatar Siarlys Jenkins April 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Wise words, JonF, thank you. I don’t know whether Anony Mouse intended his or her obtuse question to be a reply to you, or to Wilson, or to someone else… but there is no reason to believe that celibacy is the only manner to be prudent about bringing children into the world. Sexual relations within marriage are also the reunification of the complete Image of God, split into male and female, not solely a mechanism for conception.

Contraception aside though, Wilson makes some important points in this post. Our modern economic life simply does not value children. While I wouldn’t consider bearing and raising children “a job,” it is a vocation, it is work, it does take a great deal of time, and investment of both emotional and material resources. In a wage labor and business investment economy, the real investment necessary in children simply isn’t accounted for. Careers come first. Employers look for employees who will “put the company first.” As a union shop steward, I saw a manager threaten a young mother with termination because she had twice in one month been absent from work to take her asthmatic son to the hospital.

It would be desirable if we could restructure our economic, family, and social relations so that people could marry and begin families at the age our bodies and physiology call for doing so. This might require that young fathers and mothers work part time, carry less intensive educational course loads, move into careers as their children hit their mid teens, really hit their stride as their children began to marry, while extended family networks helped care for youngsters… Contraception should be an intimate personal choice, rather than a rational response to financial pressure.

avatar Anymouse April 29, 2012 at 10:14 pm

The imposition of economic demands upon the family and particularly young women has been harmful indeed.

avatar Jerry Salyer April 30, 2012 at 8:11 am

“Like any technology, contraception is a means to an end and thus is seen as neither good nor bad.”

That highlights a view which, contraception aside, really must be corrected before any fruitful discussion of any technology can begin.

Regardless of whether it is or is not acceptable to divorce the pleasures of sex from its consequences, technology is not at all “morally neutral”, at least not in the sense that one might ordinarily interpret the expression; not every specimen of technology is equally amenable to being turned toward good ends.

“The parents of large families may actually be accused of depriving their children of opportunity by having “too many”. Thus, a Church that opposes contraception must start by calling out upward mobility in the non-poor for what it is: the sin of pride in secular disguise.”

Very true; we all want to live like aristocrats, though of course nobody wants to shoulder the aristocrat’s obligations.

avatar Karen April 30, 2012 at 5:42 pm

So, apparently wanting my kids to have a good life, and as a consequence regulating my fertility so that I can provide that, is a bad thing? I should want my offspring to be ignorant filthy peasants forever?

The article itself, along with every other article ever written in opposition to birth control in history, never addresses the main point: men don’t get pregnant. Only women are affected by the prohibition on contraception. Only women will lose their livelihoods or chances for education and self-betterment. Men can do like they’ve done throughout history and just leave.

avatar Tom B April 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm

Perhaps the reason that you find that this “article itself, along with every other article ever written in opposition to birth control in history, never addresses the main point: men don’t get pregnant,” is because you have misunderstood the main point.

If you think that only women are affected by the contraception mentality, or that women’s lives have been “bettered,” you have a good grasp of ideology but not much of a grip on reality.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins April 30, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Karen, there can be no doubt that the author of the original post opposes all contraception, and does so quite sincerely, on moral grounds that at least are logically consistent, and apply to men as well as women. On the other hand, many of us have commented favorably to the beneficial uses of contraception.

It is a fact that only women can conceive and give birth. That is how our species, and every species, developed, long before we made any choices that could shape how we live. I’m not sure Tom B has any special grasp on reality — he too espouses an ideology — but when Mr. Wilson writes of the natural gift of marriage and children, he necessarily writes of how men as well as women need to embrace a wholly different set of priorities… it would be sheer hypocrisy to put the unavoidable burdens on women while men get to enjoy a free gift.

avatar Joan May 1, 2012 at 11:03 am

Karen, you must be very new to FPR. One of the ideas this site is all about is that the “peasant” way of life, meaning life in a tradition-based rural community where most people get their hands dirty producing food from the soil, is a very good life, maybe the best, certainly better than the life led by a typical alienated, striving Wall Street financier or think tank member. It also takes a fair amount of knowledge; ignorant is exactly what a peasant cannot afford to be, not if he’s going to enjoy the privilege of making a living from the soil for any length of time. If you’re going to argue that the peasant life is the opposite of the good life and that it’s better for children not to be born at all than to grow up to be peasants, you’re not going to get a very sympathetic hearing here.

avatar Anymouse May 1, 2012 at 3:17 pm

You have stated things well, Joan. A sane society would agree that life as a peasant is better than a painful death at a young age. The fact that our society looks in the opposite direction shows are problems.

avatar Anymouse May 1, 2012 at 3:18 pm

are=our

avatar ahunt May 3, 2012 at 7:00 pm

“he necessarily writes of how men as well as women need to embrace a wholly different set of priorities… it would be sheer hypocrisy to put the unavoidable burdens on women while men get to enjoy a free gift.”

So what does this look like…in the real world?

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 3, 2012 at 9:44 pm

In the real world, ahunt, this vision is far from being brought to reality. I am trying to give our gracious host his due as far as consistency of vision. Now, to challenge him to remake the male of the species, collegially, collectively, across the board, by nature and inclination, into the sort of male partner who could join hands with the female of the species to bring this hopefully wholesome vision to reality… that’s quite a challenge. Maybe some of those who endorse this vision could give us examples, drawn from how each treats the women in their own life as equal partners in proper development of the human vocation.

I have occasionally speculated about developing as a science fiction scenario a planet and species where one sex is intelligent, and the other merely serves a reproductive purpose, possibly also as a household pet. One can try this with either the male or female possessing the intelligence. But, that’s not how we evolved, or were created, or both. Perhaps, given the subtle genetic variations that determine sexuality, it is not feasible. It is also inconsistent with the idea that humanity was made in the image of God, “male and female created he him… them.”

I would submit that life as an intelligent, educated, independent, prosperous peasant, with full access to the means to control one’s fertility, working harmoniously to sustain the complex ecosystem that makes the productivity of all peasant proprietors in the place of sense possible, would be a desirable goal. Karen perhaps draws upon the common modern misusage that mistakes peasant for villein, serf, or agricultural slave (three somewhat different statuses).

avatar ahunt May 3, 2012 at 11:04 pm

“Maybe some of those who endorse this vision could give us examples, drawn from how each treats the women in their own life as equal partners in proper development of the human vocation.”

That would be good.

avatar Karen May 4, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Siarlys, you describe how I was using “peasant” exactly — ignorant, dirty, legally tied to someone else’s land and without any means of escaping that poverty. Perhaps “lumpen prole” would be a better word around here. I think most of us should improve ourselves by learning constantly, and I most fear a world where people simply dismiss the need for learning and self-improvement in large classes of people because those people are not male or not wealthy enough. Joan’s comment upthread demonstrates this tendency in that she dismisses the desire to have one’s children work in prestigious occupations as a kind of pride. I reply that I want my kids to do prestigious work in the arts or the sciences because that kind of work is creative and interesting and generally performed in more comfortable conditions. I’d be lying if I denied that bragging wasn’t part of it, but I also know that the kinds of jobs the uneducated get are pretty damn wretched, and I refuse to see my children live wretched lives.

avatar Joan May 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Karen, you paint a very grim picture, in which the life that ordinary people live is wretched and the only way to escape to a non-wretched life is through a credentialing process (euphemistically called “education”) which is so brutally expensive that parents must engage in a kind of triage, keeping some of their children from being born at all in order to muster the resources to get the rest credentialed. It’s a useful example of the world view propagated by the industrial economy and the way that world view conflicts and competes with traditional religions such as Christianity.

The increasing class segregation that has taken place in the U.S. over the last fifty years means that few Americans meet anyone outside their own socioeconomic level except in structured work situations. We now get our ideas about people significantly better and worse off than ourselves from the media, and the media are mostly commercial, owned and operated as businesses dependent on advertising from retailers. Thus, they are motivated first and foremost by the agenda of those retailers, and the first concern of retailers is that people should buy as much as they can and seek to increase their buying as long as they live. People who put something else first, such as Christ’s two greatest commandments (to love God and love your neighbors) will soon figure out that, if they cut back on consumption and live in a less expensive place, they can work fewer hours and have more time for worship and community. It is therefore in the interests of retailers that the media should depict life in the less affluent segments of society as endlessly miserable, characterized by addiction, casual violence, stress and shame. The media thus makes the biggest single socioeconomic sector, the working lower-middle class who are not poor and not college-educated, invisible. The idea is to scare people away from putting anything else before upward mobility.

For roughly the first ten years of my life, I lived in a trailer park. It was a friendly place, no paradise but pretty happy as I recall. When we moved away, in 1965, I missed it intensely. In 2004, passing through the area, I found that the trailer park was still there and I took a drive through. I no longer knew anyone there, of course, but I saw a fair number of people and enough of them were smiling and interacting that I concluded that it was still a friendly and happy place. I surprised some younger college-educated friends, telling them all this, because these friends genuinely believed that trailer parks were pits of hell where no one could possibly be happy. I didn’t have to ask where this belief had come from.

Fear of the non-credentialed life does more than just compete with religion for control of our lives. It also contributes to the stereotype of the non-college-educated majority as a bunch of knuckle-draggers and generally to social class bigotry. You can find knuckle-draggers if you go looking for them, but the idea that without the credentials there’s nothing available but the knuckle-dragging life is just not true. That’s why I’ve indulged in this overly long explanation: social class bigotry is the biggest and ugliest prejudice of our time.

avatar Anymouse May 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm

Everything you say is well thought, and an excellent point. I have lived in a trailer park when I was a small boy and it seemed nice.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Joan, one does not have to paint eighty percent of our fellow citizens into a grim anteroom of hell, in order to find merit in education, and consider the virtues of family planning. I’ll see you and raise you as to happy friendly places and the idiocy of intellectual isolation.

For starters, let’s remember that, contrary to the modern stereotypes of the working class, in the good old days family men on their way to a labor parade, or a picket line, KNOWING they were likely to be beaten bloody by the police, wore their best or only three piece suits and bowler hats. It was a matter of pride. The Western Federation of Miners was formed by working men who kept libraries of classic literature in their cabins in the mining camps. Indeed, the media, and the prejudices of blind intellectuals, have sold us many myths about “life in the less affluent segments of society as endlessly miserable, characterized by addiction, casual violence, stress and shame.”

My mother’s mother’s family is from eastern Tennessee. When my father spent a year at Oak Ridge, my mother was asked “Have you met any of the natives?” Oh yes, she replied, I graduated from the high school in the little town down the road…

But, those happy people in the trailer park are literate, unlike the serfs of yore (most of our ancestors). There are better reasons for family planning than keeping the number of kids low in order to finance a dubiously expensive education that is neither a guarantee of affluence nor particularly valuable training to lead a competent and virtuous life. In short, your facts and your critique are unassailable… only, they don’t add up to “Throw those pills away and have more babies.” Some might, some might not.

avatar JonF May 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Re: Regardless of whether it is or is not acceptable to divorce the pleasures of sex from its consequences

Children are not “consequences”, by which some people seem to mean “punishment for enjoying sex.” Children are human beings and should never be seen as “consequences”, still less a judgment on their parents’ sex lives.

And really: Nature itself, and Nature’s God, divided sex from procreation a very long time ago when it comes to homo spaiens. Check out other animals: they have estrual cycles, when the females are fertile and desire sex, and give off signals of some sort so the males will be aroused and also desire sex. Nothing of the sort happens with us humans, rather we are sexual at all times when we are adults, including well after our females lose their fertility for good. Sex is NOT naturally oriented toward reproduction for us, unless one thinks the Creator was so exhausted by the time he got to us He screwed up our sexuality totally. Catholic dogma on this matter falls apart in the face of this biological reality.

avatar Gian May 7, 2012 at 12:52 am

JonF,
“Sex is NOT naturally oriented toward reproduction for us”

Then to what it is naturally oriented?

CS Lewis in Preface to Paradise Lose writes that normal human sexuality is learned and many humans and many societies fail to learn it.

The point is Man is a Rational Animal and thus lives in a moral order as well as a natural order. Or in other words, Human Nature includes both a biological and moral order. Contra evolutionists, the biological order is not prior with moral or cultural order later grafted in but both orders have co-existed forever.

So the analysis of human nature can never be reduced to pure biology.

avatar Anymouse May 7, 2012 at 11:22 pm

True. But few want to acknowledge that. It is interesting how one dimensional nearly all of the conventional secularist analyses are: Marxism is purely Economic Materialist, while many of our mainstream liberals have an Biological Materialist view of sex firmly embedded in their mind.

avatar ahunt May 8, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Disappointed that no one has accepted SJ’s challenge…but heartened by the much broader tent advocates of place and community appear to be constructing. Getting the sense that shared goals may NOT oblige absolute conformity, specific religious adherence and a rejection of my beloved iPod. (Perfectly happy to shoot the television, though.)

avatar Gabe Ruth May 11, 2012 at 11:07 am

Comments got off to a rocky and obtuse start, but Joan, that was an excellent and insightful addition to an excellent piece (though Mr. Salyer’s point must be kept in mind). I would add that the sin of sloth is probably also mixed in there, demonstrated by the fetish that has been made of retirement. This is somewhat understandable, as it is a means of escaping from wage slavery (a term I don’t much like, but which is probably a fair description for a vast majority of people in developed countries). But our imaginations have been stunted by our dependance on technology and our acceptance of being surrounded by strangers (i.e. the destruction of intermediate institutions). We cannot visualize an alternative to wage slavery. Everyone pays lip service to independence, but in reality the real thing terrifies us. Much better to look for a comfortable, stable 9 to5 with benefits and rage against the 1% when we can’t find one.

Mr. Jenkins, your first comment was… sublime in perceiving parts of the truth and then ignoring necessary inferences. “It would be desirable… carry less intensive educational course loads…” Whoa. My mind is splattered all over my keyboard. But your second was excellent. Then “with full access to the means to control one’s fertility…” Like, pants? And yes, let us decree that all will be intelligent! Your response to Joan is incoherent. Someone said something once about serving two masters. Think on this.

I endorse this vision, and I don’t treat my wife as a baby-making dishwasher. So it’s all about equality? I am fully aware that the bearing of children puts a physical strain on her I cannot imagine. Added to that is the emotional strain that her working full time (and then some) instead of staying home with our daughter (which she really would prefer, though there is doubtless a grass-is-greener element to that) puts on her. While I think some of that is socially generated, I do think there’s a biological component (that makes her want to stay home more than me). Making our situation more complicated is the fact that she has much greater earning potential than I do. So while I could conceivably quit my job (I don’t hate it, but I like hanging out with the little one more) and stay home with our daughter (and other children if we are so blessed) in a few years, that situation would be difficult for her to bear. While she is a committed Catholic, she is not fully on board with the FPR vision of getting your hands dirty and letting go of upward mobility (AKA becoming a useless rich person) yet. I am working on this (and it’s not like I’m a paragon of this lifestyle; currently it is strictly theoretical), but I would settle for following Joan’s advice as a family, cutting back extensively and living off of what I bring home. We are currently limiting our fertility with NFP, and it’s something we question regularly (i.e. whether we are being selfish or cowardly in delaying our next).

avatar ahunt May 11, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Hmmm Gabe,

Dunno if I could or would even have wanted to sideline the BH’s passion in life. He’s an engineer first, and farmer second. But he was on board with my dreams of simpler, stationary living, and though much less involved in community life than moi, he contributes his expertise and time as he can.

So…not pure here, but definitely on track.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins May 12, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Gabe, you have sliced up my previous remarks with so many ellipses that I can’t make sufficient sense of the selective recapitulation to answer it. In the original context it made sense to me. I won’t waste everyone’s time trying to reconstruct it.

I know that it is possible to hold your beliefs about sex, family, and reproduction, without treating your wife as a baby making and dishwashing machine. I know many men who have been born Roman Catholic (or Lutheran) and remained so all their lives, who dearly love and respect their wives, and who sincerely believe that they themselves are the head of the family. (Some of them would be lost without their wife keeping track of the family finances, paying the bills, filling out the insurance papers… and some wives depend on their husbands for same.)

Gian, sexual attraction, leading to marriage, has the spiritual significance of reuniting the Adam, the image of God, which was split into male and female. That is true whether or not children result. I will not speculate whether that is THE reason humans don’t cycle in and out of estrus for a “mating season” and otherwise ignore each other.

The biological order probably precedes the cultural order. The moral order may have been latent in the nature and structure of creation a priori biology, but in any event, biological determinism hardly provides a one size fits all explanation for everything in life. One does not need to reduce human beings to pure biology to accept contraception. Quite the contrary. The BIOLOGICAL order would clearly suggest that having lots of babies is THE reason for adults to exist. Consider the fate of black widow and praying mantis males.

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