Procreation and Control
by Sidney Callahan,
in The Catholic Case for Contraception, Ed. D. Callahan, Macmillan, pp.41-64,1969.
(& from Beyond Birth Control: The Christian Experience of Sex, Sheed and Ward, 1968.)
Conceiving, bearing, and rearing children is the ultimate communal action. The individual heritages of two people are joined in a unique new creation; all the physical, material, and psychic resources of both parents and of the larger community are needed. However, this communal social process of procreation and child-rearing has often been discussed in a misleading context. Labelling procreation as “rational,” the “duty” of married people, is misleading both biologically and emotionally. Man’s drive to reproduce himself may be less strong than the reproductive instinct in animals and less tied to mating, but it does exist. Distinctively human emotions reinforce the primitive drive for offspring.
[p.42] Sensual delight in the physical presence of one’s own child fuses with awe and delight in seeing the child’s evolving mind and personality. Respect for individuality and personhood, wonder at the potential and development of human growth—these human responses give depth to the joy of peopling a uniquely created world of family and home. Parents create a continuously growing community wherein reciprocal love can be given and taken. Procreation is an instinctive pleasure, a joy, a delight, and a privilege—rather than a rational duty.
With divided man, however, every good drive is open to perversion. The drive for children is no exception. Children have been desired for all the wrong reasons, from self-aggrandisement and pride to revenge, economic security, economic gain. Freud suggested that one major psychic route to the desire for children was the sublimation of the early incest wish to have children by the beloved parent. This may well be a factor in development, but what is the source of this infantile irrational drive to procreate with the beloved parent? Man’s mature sexual drive not only turns to beloved persons but becomes directed through desire and love to create and build future community. The “generativity” of Erikson’s mature person most naturally comes to fruition through producing and rearing children. Despite the possible perversions, procreation joyfully fulfils man’s individual and communal potential.
The writer of Genesis recognized the importance of procreation to man. Man holds his mandate from God to “increase and multiply and subdue the earth”; Abraham is promised descendants “numerous as the stars” as his reward for fidelity. This mandate and promise [p.43] are not repeated in the New Testament, but the privilege, joy, and responsibility of procreation seem assumed. Christ tenderly accepted children, strongly affirmed their rights, and used images of child, childbearing, and family love in his teaching. His reference to the labouring woman’s joy that a man has come into the world reveals his accord with the Jewish tradition. Conception, procreation, offspring—these are a blessing and privilege. Christ proclaimed as a portent of the horrors of the last times that the barren would rejoice in their barrenness. And it is only Christ’s appreciation of family life that made him praise those who would leave all to follow him; only for the sake of the kingdom would family life be transcended. Even among the ear-liest Christians, who expected the kingdom to come so soon, childbearing and child-rearing are assumed to be the married person’s privileged service of God. Successful child-rearing allowed both women and men to qualify for leadership in the early Church.
Yet, as happened so often in the development of Christian thought, a priori assumption and joyful privilege became transformed into dutiful obligation when faced with challenge from heresy and an alien culture. Pagan license and Manichaean hatred of the flesh both denied man’s procreative mandate, although for very different reasons. Moreover, the prevalence of infanticide and abortion elicited a Christian defence of innocent and defenceless life by emphasizing the duty to procreate and educate children in marriage. Finally, a revulsion at pagan selfishness and the influence of the Manichaeans coalesced and triumphed.
Suspicion of all sexuality grew to such proportions that eventually procreation became the only acceptable [p.44] motivation for intercourse in marriage, or, worse still, child-rearing became “the price paid” for indulgence in the flesh. Yet, ironically, the suspicion of sexuality and the desire to defend celibacy and angelic marriages delayed any formal dogmatic statement of the couple’s moral obligation to procreate. The primary purpose of marriage was defined as the procreation and education of children, and one could not frustrate conception; but until very recently the married could be praised for heroic sanctity if they lived in complete abstinence without producing children. However, such niceties of distinction, or so much abstinence, rarely prevailed at the popular level of Christian thought and practice.
Tainted married sexuality thus became totally bound and subordinate to procreation. The more children (and/or—however paradoxically—the more abstinence), the more holy the marriage. Applying all the celibate norms for an unmarried spirituality (negative norms at that) to the situation of the married resulted in much distortion. And the older forms of categorical thought and analysis misfired particularly in coping with the dynamic interwoven relationships of family life. Each act of intercourse was analysed as a single isolated occurrence (as it would be for the non-married or in a static rational dissection), each conception and childbirth considered apart from the context of the existing family. An underground mystical stream of Christian tradition might include earthly love in a mystical affirmation of creation and God’s dynamic love, but, generally, abstinence and rationality were the reigning ideals.
This inadequate Christian view of dutiful sexuality and procreation was encouraged by general conditions [p.45] in the developing western culture. The necessity of marriage as a stable institution, combined with the fact of the low survival rate of both children and adults, placed all the emphasis on achieving fertility and building up the family. Gradually, however, with the growth of scientific knowledge and industrialization, the cultural situation changed and is changing still. No longer do most parents live in a society in which few survive childhood and where those who do prove to be an economic asset. Now, rather, it is anticipated that children will consume family resources instead of helping the family economy. There has been a revolution of child-rearing standards over the generations, with increased recognition of the requirements of time, attention, and education. The Christian west discovered childhood in the late fourteenth and fifteenth century as children emerged from “the anonymity in which their slender chance of survival had maintained them.” Through raised expectations and educational demands, the pressures of successfully rearing a child have increased a hundredfold. At the same time, affluence and technology have been accompanied by certain breakdowns in stable community life. The individual couple, therefore, must meet greater economic, educational, moral, and psychological responsibilities to their children with less help. Children may never have been so enjoyed, valued, and understood, but this appreciation and understanding means that their need for family nurturing is seen more clearly. Those parents who are not exceptionally energetic and/or wealthy can also foresee that having more children may very well mean slighting the children they already have.
The technological revolution which created these new cultural conditions also produced new biological [p.46] knowledge and consequent controls of sexuality and conception which challenge the old assumptions and methods of thought. Focusing on each sexual act in itself was more logical when the male semen was thought to contain the complete embryo, needing the female only for womb and blood. Female ovulation itself has been known for no longer than the age-span of the oldest members of our society. This one biological discovery radically changes our view of the nature of human fertility and sterility, and the implied norm of female sterility has not yet been fully considered. The increased life-span of modern woman insures that for two-thirds of her life she will be absolutely sterile (not counting the twenty-some sterile days each month during her childbearing years). Biologically, female sterility is more normative than fertility within the present life-span. Philosophically, therefore, individual acts of coitus cannot be as surely linked to conception when it is biologically known that repeated and continuous coitus is necessary to achieve conception within the varied and continuous human cycle of fertility and sterility. Moreover, with the further development of new hormonal controls of ovulation, a new dimension was added to the question of control. With “the pill,” the growing challenge that widespread mechanical contraception had been giving to traditional Christian ideas became even more insistent.
The first moral problem that arose was the basic question of whether or not man should control his fertility at all. Should parents attempt to limit the number of children they would have? Intellectually and theologically, this had never been much of a problem; because the traditional option of marital abstinence, which would [p.47] in one aspect of the old view be an ideal marriage anyway, would inevitably limit children. In the first theological groupings with the problem of over-fertility, complete abstinence was given as the only acceptable answer for a distressed couple. However, in popular devotion or “folk Catholicism” a view of providence prevailed which made even abstinence seem presumptuous. God sent children to the married and God would provide for them; to control conception was to distrust God’s providence. The same nonreasoning superstition that tolerated the medieval ordeal operated here; surely an all-powerful God would not let the innocent drown or the guilty burn, or, in the modern case, the new-born starve. Secondary causes, rationality, and man’s responsibility for the world were rejected as inconsistent with true faith.
The new knowledge of the woman’s fertile time of the month was ignored, and the “rhythm method” was generally rejected as less than fully Christian. In response to a group of French bishops, Rome ruled favourably on a form of the rhythm method in the last century, but the inadequacy of the method’s biological basis kept the reluctant approval from spreading popularly. In twentieth-century America a small group of deeply motivated married couples enthusiastically embraced a mystique of casting themselves upon providence in their family life. Heroic sanctity was sought in marriage through having as many children as God sent and living in the poverty and total generosity of the evangelical life. It is not surprising that this movement was often accompanied by a back-to-the-land agrarianism and a general rejection of technology. The rural moastery with its unworldly and liturgical piety became [p.48] the ideal model for the home. The first generation of these married laymen seeking perfection in their marriages and family life were excessive in their zeal (as were the first desert hermits). And they were mistaken in taking the contemplative or mendicant celibate vocation as a model for marital sanctity. Casting one’s self upon providence is a different matter when you will not bear the consequences alone. A child’s welfare cannot be sacrificed to his parents’ search for sanctity.
The tendency to disregard the world and secondary causes was gradually seen as a temptation to false supernaturalism. Christ did not succumb to the temptation to ignore the law of gravity and cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple to obtain supernatural intervention. Eventually, man’s knowledge of the body and the possibility of fertility control were seen as giving moral responsibility to man. Man must choose once he knows, for to knowingly ignore choice is a choice in itself. A changing attitude toward the world encouraged new interpretations of Christian responsibility. The realization that God made the world and gave it to man to subdue modified the traditional tendency to passive otherworldliness, and it could be seen that subduing the world could include controlling the increase of human beings. Logically, fertility control is as valid as death control or pain control or any taming of natural forces that man has achieved for the betterment of existing human life. Man is distinctively human just because he acts on himself and his world rather than being submerged in nature. When Christianity can be understood as a working-out of communal salvation, then a passive acceptance of human fertility (or infertility, for that matter) is not an adequate response.
[p.49] For too long the awesome fact that a new child and immortal person comes into existence with each conception blinded man to the sad fact that in a disordered world the existing human beings in a family or a nation could be harmed by this new creation. Somehow, the fall of man which brought disorder to the world was not thought to apply to conceptions. An interesting analysis of the Genesis account of the fall, however, sees the punishment of Eve as including not only pain in childbirth but uncontrolled fertility in the “multiplying of conceptions.” In point of fact, the disorder in our world reaches all the highest goods that man knows— life, marriage, work, procreation. Christians called to restore all things in Christ are called to correct disorder and to work toward harmony, the harmony of man with his body, his community, and his environment. Man can and should control procreation for a higher good.
This implication of the teaching of the Church became clear when the Second Vatican Council confirmed an idea of responsible parenthood. The council statement marked an acceptance and grasp of new realities by Christian authority. First, the Council recognized that the physical processes of nature have been so disordered that new pregnancies can be a real physical threat to the mother’s health and life. This is a threat which she has a right to avoid for the sake of self- preservation. Secondly, the statement recognized that many social and psychological disorders are also beyond the control of the individual family and can make additional children a threat to the family’s social health. Thirdly, a new recognition of social reality is matched by a new understanding of personal psychological reality,[p.50] i.e., the psychic dimension of sexuality which benefits the love and unity of married couples in themselves and in their child-raising. In the Church’s newest formulation, responsible Christian parenthood includes a high evaluation of the sexual relationship of the parents. Fertility control, therefore, must not damage the sexual unity of the parents. But how? The i means to fertility control becomes the crucial theological question once the right and responsibility of parents to control fertility is granted. . . .
The testimony of Christian celibacy to the possibility of full personhood and community without sexual fulfilment or progeny helped to modify the earlier pagan and Jewish horror of sterility. When charity and unity must extend beyond kinship or racial ties, then biologically producing family as family is not all-important; building up the community becomes primary. Physical non-parenthood implies no diminution of personhood. The single, the widowed, the old, the child, the celibate —all share in the kingdom according to their relationship to God. Women have not ended their useful life after childbearing becomes physically impossible; female animals may not live beyond their reproductive capacity, but people do. In human beings sexual desire serves the love and unity of the couple who must continue growing in their love, as well perhaps as continue to raise their younger children, long after further reproduction is impossible. Sterility is a natural occurrence in the couple’s life after the wife’s menopause and even at times during the earlier years of their marriage, as when the wife is nursing a child. Only when kinship groups are more important than general humanity does sterility become a fearful fate.
Why, then, should artificial medical sterilization be [p.51] considered a forbidden mutilation of the person? Why has voluntary sterilization been so unacceptable as a form of control of conception? Of course, to sterilize without consent is a horrible violation of the individual person’s rights over his body and its potential. When authority condones sterilization as a legal punishment and accepts legal judgment as to who is fit or unfit to procreate, then that society and its laws regress one step toward Nazi Germany. In the same way, when (as happened in the 1960’s) an Italian theologian talks of the legitimacy of sterilizing the criminally insane, the Church moves back toward the Inquisition and the rack. The body is “for the Lord”; what we do to another we do to Christ. Those who countenance involuntary sterilization (or capital punishment) might well be shocked at the similar justifications for torture in Vietnam or Algeria. Can any community claim this much enforced right over any of its members? Christians, despite past guilt in assuming rights over another’s body, must protest all forms of creeping totalitarianism which assume such a right.
Voluntary sterilization, on the other hand, is another matter. Essentially, voluntary sterilization in a woman does nothing more than quicken a natural and inevitable process of nature. Sterility is natural to a woman during most of her youth, and it is absolutely sure after a certain age. To end fertility for the good of the community, the immediate family, or the mother’s health seems a rational function in subduing nature. Modem Christian moralists have never scrupled to approve Caesarian childbirth or the hurrying of childbirth by artificial means to insure the good of mother and child. Why should moral approval of earlier sterilization be such a different case? The Christian censure of sterilization [p.52] has never been as strong as that against mechanical contraception, perhaps because of lack of knowledge or perhaps because of past lapses when the cutting off of a hand or other bodily mutilations were approved as punishments.
It is instructive to remember that in the recent controversy over transplanting organs the first reaction was to consider such removal of a healthy organ a forbidden mutilation. Finally, however, there arose an understanding that the principle of totality and intentional charity made the former definition of mutilation inadequate. The body has dignity and possesses a right to integrity, but not at the expense of the total organism. Christ himself spoke of laying down one’s life for a friend and of casting out an eye in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Cannot the potentiality of fertility likewise be voluntarily sacrificed to serve the greater whole? And is it not primarily the taboos and mystique that have surrounded sexuality—and made it “more sacred” than other potentialities—that have prevented acceptance of voluntary sterilization as a means of fertility control. Then too, in the past, procreation was considered a rational duty rather than a privileged right of human instinct and pleasure, and voluntary sterilization would be seen as social irresponsibility to the community. Now, however, the human species is no longer in danger of dying out, but rather in danger from the physical and psychological effects of overcrowding. In a country like India, suffering so desperately from overpopulation problems where famine decisively ends so many lives, should not—and even must not—man decisively end his own procreative potential for the good of others?
[p.53] The sacrifice and decisive step of permanent sterilization would be foolish before a certain age and before procreative privileges in marriage had been exercised. But after a certain number of children and after a certain age, two married people should be able to accelerate the infertility which time will inevitably bring. The possibility of accidental death of one of the spouses or of children does not really present an objection; no loved person is replaceable through procreation. Nor would such sterility limit love and service to the community; physical procreation is only one form of generosity. Naturally, voluntary permanent sterilization would never be an ideal, for no one relishes any permanent diminution of the body from baldness to toothlessness. However, sacrificing one capacity may better the whole in many situations.
To move to another specific case, the temporary sterility now easily achieved through chemical means has the very important advantage of being immediately reversible. Medically, oral contraceptives may yet prove to present dangers. Morally, however, as long as no new life is attacked, the totality principle again applies. The totality of the organism and the well-being of the family and community justify regulating fertility by increasing the time-span of the naturally occurring cycles of sterility. But first prohibitions of the moralists concerning the “pill” were based on extensions of the traditional reasoning and old assumptions. Primary and secondary ends of marriage were still distinguished, a distinction rejected, or at least ignored, by the Second Vatican Council.
In the first reactions to chemical contraception, [p.54] as had been the case regarding mechanical contraception, the old awed prejudice against sexuality was still reinforced by bad biological assumptions of the inseparability of coitus and conception and the need to justify the pleasure of sexuality by procreation. The basic assumption in which the old argument goes astray was well stated in one of the current analyses of the problem: “All the traditional arguments against contraception imply this inviolable God-given direction to new life in the sexual act and the sexual function; the difficulty is that they have not proved this, their major premise.” Why inviolable, why absolute? In the gospel, sex is no more sacrosanct than other important faculties of man. Centuries of heresy and pagan influence, however, created the taboo and mystique. And present-day conservatives, yielding to a reversal of thought on the evil of sex, have ended up again with a view of sex as “too good and too sacred” to be controlled by man. Thus, those seeking a change in the Church’s teaching on contraception have been accused of giving in to sexual license and/or desecrating the mystic I-thou sacredness of the sexual relationship.
Misunderstandings and delays in the development of a new morality result when new technology and knowledge have deprived the traditional natural law arguments of a putative, static, stable order of nature to use as a base. A recent elaborate philosophical reinterpretation of the natural law argument assuming that procreation for the married is a substantive good not to be actively opposed founders on the primary assumption that procreation is still a substantive good in an overcrowded world. The previous testimony of rational men to verify this assumption means little, since all rational men at one time or another have been misled. The past is not [p.55] the present, much less the future. Human nature does change, as radically as man’s physique has changed over the centuries. Abstract philosophical arguments must be grounded in the present concrete human situation— and must realize, among other things, the limitations of human reason and the importance of human emotion.
Timing, context, and motivation give varied meanings to objective acts. A married couple fulfils their privilege and obligation in expanding their love and their community in a life together. Each act of intercourse need not be open to procreation—as, indeed, it could not be biologically. Only the misinformed understanding of the time sequence of conception can so identify coitus and conception that to intend one without the other is seen as irrational. Conception may even take place days after intercourse. Coitus also serves the unity of the couple, and often a couple will need to serve unity without at the same time expanding their community through procreation. Even if overcrowding and tension may eventually reduce human fertility naturally through evolution, those in need today cannot wait. In fact, the more expanded the couple’s love and responsibility, the more the couple may need to be unified without having more children as the result.
All methods of birth control based upon extended abstinence err in a crucial and often cruel contradiction. Just when a couple’s resources are overstrained so that having more children would be irresponsible, then the strengthening bond of sexual unity is also taken away by abstinence. Furthermore, those with emotional stability, economic resources, good health, and helpful friends and family will (be able to cope with more children and so avoid prolonged abstinence. On the other [p.56] hand, while those who are poor in emotional resources, material goods, or physical health are those who should limit procreation, abstinence for them may remove the one remaining, sustaining bond and resource of their marriage. Only the rich and insensitive can speak of any positive values in stifling what may be the one creative emotional expression and pleasure of those deprived of all other communication and community.
Moreover, the supposed self-discipline of prolonged voluntary abstinence is usually not helpful to the personality growth of the married. Illness, pregnancy, work, fatigue, and consideration for one’s mate impose much necessary abstinence in which sexual desire is already sublimated. This discipline is inherent, necessary, and appropriate to the couple’s life together, and is rather easily mastered by most mature loving people. However, when even more abstinence becomes the only means to avoid pregnancy, then abstinence can endanger the couple’s unity. Even St. Paul warned that marital abstinence should not last too long, for fear of temptations to evil. The less strong are tempted to infidelity, solitary sexual fulfilment, or regression to more infantile satisfaction. The strong and independent who have worked hard to develop a unity in their common emotional bond are tempted to separate emotions and will and to overemphasize their independence. A little abstinence may be as refreshing and stimulating as silence is to speech, but too much suppression kills the desire for unity as the personality turns away from the source of frustration.
Complete abstinence in marriage can be all too easy after a certain amount of frustration. It is unfortunately true that “given sufficient motivation it is possible to [p.57] reduce frustration by reducing erotic tension.” But affectionate, independent, “friends,” who can live in the same house without “erotic tension,” do not encourage deep unity. Nor do they provide the proper climate in which to raise children well. Passionate parental love gives children a comforting sense of being transcended and excluded. “They don’t live together just for me, so I don’t have to live for them; I can grow up and make my own life.” A strong erotic and romantic attachment of the parents to each other also provides the healthy, necessary frustration of the various infantile attachments which the child must outgrow to achieve psychic maturity. Moreover, sensing that his parents accept and share sensual sexual love helps a child accept his own sexuality and prepares him for his own marriage.
Children flourish in an aura of physical joy, relaxation, and openness. An atmosphere of uninhibited tenderness and delight in the flesh creates blooming infants, whereas the contrary atmosphere of family strain, irritability, repressed coolness and/or cerebral detachment withers a child. Also, it is well-known that when children are not played with tenderly, physically, and with delight, they become psychologically maimed and stunted (or even die). It is important that parents be open to expressions of joy and physical play with their children. At the same time, however, husband and wife must be so absorbed in their own relationship that the child is not subconsciously made into a substitute gratification.
In theory, the “rhythm method” of periodic abstinence would not create the tensions of complete abstinence. Control is effected through knowledge of [p.58] the body’s processes; the fertile time is ascertained, and abstinence provides an allowance of time so that sperm and egg cannot meet. In this method there is no irre-versible and drastic change in the body, no chemically induced hormonal change, no spatial barrier to the male penetration, no interruption of coitus. Aesthetically and medically, rhythm far surpasses other methods of fertility control. When there is no interference in any bodily process, there can be no unfortunate side effects or disruption of functioning. And there is the happy absence of intrusive mechanical appliances or worrisome routines to be remembered.
Barriers of time are different from spatial barriers, contrary to one argument for contraception. The couple mutually effects this barrier, while a spatial barrier must be placed in or on one or another separate body and can be done without the knowledge or consent of the other. Only mutual decision about timing can control conception in the rhythm method. Control of the body through knowledge and will preserves a continuity and interested unity of man’s psychic and physical potential. Margaret Mead felt that Samoan girls did not become pregnant during their affairs because of their ability to know instinctively their fertile times (like the promiscuous, primitive daughter who watched the moon in Tobacco Road). In voicing the hope that all birth control could be based on such a recovery of knowledge of the body, Margaret Mead expressed a very human preference for effective preventive knowledge rather than effective mechanical techniques. Father de Lestapis makes this same distinction between external “exogenous” techniques and the “endogenous” mastery of physiological functions of the organism. He also hopes [p.59] much from future developments and research into the resources of the human body-mind synthesis.
However, it is just our present lack of sure knowledge of the physiological functioning of female ovulation that makes the rhythm method inadequate and often psychically destructive. The relatively short time of actual fertility cannot yet be predicted with certainty. Thus, an extended period of abstinence is now necessary to allow for uncertainty and/or variation in ovulation cycles. A short period of abstinence determined as biologically necessary for actual control of fertility could be easily integrated into a loving sexual relationship; minor obstacles increase desire and add piquancy. But an extended period of abstinence that requires serious repression with the necessary efforts of avoidance can engender all of the personal and family problems of permanent abstinence discussed above. Often, when cycles are short and/or irregular, and particularly when the need to control fertility is urgent, the periods of abstinence required will far exceed the supposed general norm.
But by far the worst burden of the whole method at this time is the anxiety caused by the lack of simple sure prediction. Even if all the efforts of calculation and constant preoccupation with physical measurements are viewed as a part of human responsibility and growth toward physical self-knowledge, the anxiety over calculation becomes destructive. Without the confirmation of medical or laboratory analysis, there can be little assurance that ovulation has occurred. While couples may try to duplicate a laboratory approach, they cannot live under sequestered laboratory conditions, especially when small children upset every routine. The [p.60]
emotional and physical vicissitudes of our hectic mobile lives often upset the woman’s cycle. And the greater the strain on their emotional and physical resources, the less successful a couple may be at the rhythm method.
Worry over the correctness of calculation destroys the confidence and relaxation so necessary in sexual relationships. Conflict and tension often arise; for while each feels the imperative to show sexual love for the partner, yet each fears to impose the burden of another pregnancy on their marriage and family. The “double bind” of two opposing obligations can become torturous. As the reasons for spacing children or limiting children become more serious, then the psychic drawbacks of anxiety increase along with the periods of astinence. Finally, when the conclusion is reached that no more chances can be taken with one’s health and the good of the family, the only alternatives become complete abstinence or the use of an effective contraceptive. With all their aesthetic drawbacks, medical hazards, and canonical unacceptability, the effective contraceptives provide the best known control of fertility without sacrificing the normative sexual relationship of marriage. Values concerning persons far outweigh these difficulties; people come before things, the whole before the part. Those who claim that a woman employing a diaphragm shuts off her innermost self to her husband romantically overrate sexuality in life and ignore the total context of married sexuality.
Until the time when a technical breakthrough would make rhythm infallible without weeks of abstinence or anxious calculations of physical variables, many couples in good conscience will choose mechanical or chemical contraception. Chemical and mechanical contraceptives [p.61] for the good of the marriage and family may be seen as a regrettable necessity in the same category as insulin injections for diabetics, hearing aids, false teeth, organ transplants, plastic surgery, blood transfusions, or any other intrusion or frustration of nature for the good of the total organism and community life. While sexuality is more intimate and important to the personality than some other functions of the person because of human subjectivity, the possible distortions, perversions, and personality failures present in sexual relations do not depend simply on reproductive “success.” Can the defenders of the old tradition really maintain that the physical “mutilation” or “deformation” they attribute to the use of contraceptives (to use more pejorative words than “regulation” or “control”) would be more immoral than the “shutting off,” separation, and suppression involved in complete sexual abstinence? Is it not only the special fear-awe-sacred mystique surrounding sexuality that justifies sacrificing personal communication and pleasure to an abstract principle of a static natural law?
With the demythologization of sex, tolerance of the effective mechanical and chemical contraceptives (which, of course, do not attack new life) can be integrated in a new synthesis which incorporates the best of the old values with the best of new. Generosity, respect for creation and procreation, love for each other and for children need not be destroyed. Technology now provides an exogenous fertility control to families for whom no endogenous methods yet known can work. In the very near future new knowledge may make mechanical and/or chemical contraception as obsolete as a stagecoach compared to a jet plane, but looking [p.62] to the future does not solve the present difficulties. Nor should worry over future depravities bar present concessions and change. Allowance of mechanical contraception and sterilization does not imply approval of perversion. The procreative mode of intercourse is still the sign of fulfilment of a couple’s physical and psychic communion. The very psychic and social discoveries which first caused the re-evaluation of sexuality and criticized the reigning rational biologism fully support heterosexual genitality as a necessary expression of maturity. Most psychologists might say something similar to Freud’s comment on non-genital forms of intercourse; “they degrade the love-relationship of two human beings from being a serious matter to an otiose diversion, attended neither by risk nor by spiritual participation.” Added to this testimony is the philosophical affirmation that the genital male-female giving and receiving in coitus is necessary as an aesthetic symbolic reality for the most complete expression of human love, mutuality, and communion. The biological rationale of the primacy of procreation is not the only bulwark against floods of moral and social chaos.
Fortunately, most Roman Catholic theologians who have reinvestigated and re-examined the question of birth control have been able to break out of the confining assumptions and fears which forbade all control of fertility other than abstinence. They have, of course, had to work through the taboo-mystique syndrome in which sexuality is feared and over-sanctified. A new generation of Christian thinkers has struggled to a balanced view of sexuality which recognizes the importance of the totality of the individual organism and family as well as its consequent relationship to the adaptability,[p.63] survival, and betterment of the human race as a whole. The new knowledge of the body and of evolutionary theory has been accepted, and more and more of the old biological misunderstandings are being exorcised. Psychic and social reality has been given its due, along with the importance of human cultures. As a result of these theological reappraisals, the expert advice and petition to Church authority has been to “change the law,” while the veiled and increasingly not-so-veiled theological advice to the laity has been to follow their Christian conscience if it leads them to use methods of birth control other than rhythm.
Many of the laity have announced that their reason and conscience enable them to reject past tradition and teaching which has in their opinion been inadequate. There is a definite division within the Church. The polls reveal that many more of the silent laity have simply begun using contraceptives and continued faithful attendance at Mass. Others see continuing and widespread doubt, apprehension, and general confusion as Catholics stumble about in the ruins of the Romanità synthesis. The birth control controversy is a symptom of many more serious problems, and it inaugurates many difficult decisions over control of lives. Objectively, the birth control battle within the Church is an interesting socio-religious phenomenon to observe, if rather complicated. One liberal assumption that progress and lay initiative is always right breaks down when one remembers those historical situations when the Church began by giving way to lay, secular pressure and ended by violating Christianity. The Inquisition, for instance, conformed to lay wishes and current theories; the popes of the time gave way, though only gradually; history [p.64] has recorded the result. On the other hand, the classic example of the Church’s eventual repeal of its condemnation of usury comes immediately to mind. And no one can deny that in recent past centuries the Church has advocated Christian manifestations of social justice. But how often has this been only after gradually giving in and belatedly admitting the Christian basis of the reform? The Church, in these same recent past centuries, has failed slaves, women, democrats, workers, and Jews.
In the present birth control crisis, many members of the hierarchy seem well on the way to failing the married couple, the Christian family, and the underdeveloped countries with population problems. At the Second Vatican Council many bishops voiced dissatisfaction with the old tradition. It seems that no major theologians support the traditional view; and from the published reports, an overwhelming majority of the special commission advising the pope on contraception also recommend change. With such knowledge, educated Catholics can more easily follow their conscience and can speak with weary wit of the Papal teaching on birth control as “the pope’s problem.” But official governments, the poor, and those needing guidance cannot know or operate by inside information or subtle theological distinctions; they must depend upon the stated law and clear policy of the Church. For the benefit of those who, in the present situation of confusion and doubt, are not able to make a decision of conscience on the matter of contraception and who will never read or are unable to interpret the theologians, the hierarchy and Pope must change the ban on mechanical and oral contraceptives. . . .