By John Jalsevac
July 25, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A lengthy article appearing in the most recent edition of First Things, reevaluates Pope Paul VI’s controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae (the 40th anniversary of the publication of which takes place today) in terms of the empirical evidence supporting the Pontiff’s prophetic predictions about the consequences of the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception.
"To many people," writes author Mary Eberstadt, the idea of opposing the use of contraception, "simply defies understanding. Consenting adults, told not to use birth control? Preposterous. Third World parents deprived access to contraception and abortion? Positively criminal. A ban on condoms when there’s a risk of contracting AIDS? Beneath contempt."
Indeed, "if there’s anything on earth that unites the Church’s adversaries…the teaching against contraception is probably it."
And yet, writes Eberstadt, for all of the contempt that is poured upon Humanae Vitae and the Church’s continued official defense of Paul VI’s teaching, the 40 intervening years since its publication have done nothing if not provided heaps of empirical data validating the Pope’s dire warnings about a contraceptive culture.
"Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force," says Eberstadt, "but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church."
This is the great irony, says Eberstadt - that the evidence marshaled forth in condemnation of a contraceptive culture has been provided almost entirely by secular or explicitly anti-Catholic researchers, men and women who are "honest social scientists willing to follow the data wherever it may lead."
Consider, she suggests, the work of Nobel Prize-winning economist Geroge Akerlof, who, in a well-known 1996 article, "explained in the language of modern economics why the sexual revolution…had led to an increase in both illegitimacy and abortion."
Then there is the work of "maverick sociobiologist" Lionel Tiger, who has in the past described religion as "a toxic issue." And yet, for all of that, Tiger has shown his ability to honestly "follow the data," linking "contraception to the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, trouble in the relationship between the sexes, and single motherhood."
"Tiger has further argued - as Humanae Vitae did not explicitly, though other works of Catholic theology have - for a causal link between contraception and abortion, stating outright that ‘with effective contraception controlled by women, there are still more abortions than ever….Contraception causes abortion.’"
And the list goes on. Eberstadt provides numerous examples of secular researchers who have followed the data, vindicating each and every one of Paul VI’s four primary predictions about the consequences of contraception: "a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments."
The evidence proving that each of these predictions has come to pass is so obvious as to be common sense. For instance, on the question of the "coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments," one need only consider the well-known forced-abortion and forced-sterilization practices of the Chinese government. Eberstadt also points to lesser-known examples of similar coercion that have taken place in India and Indonesia. And there are many other examples besides.
What about this matter of the deforming of the relations between the sexes, and the "general lowering of moral standards"? "Today," responds Eberstadt, "when advertisements for sex scream from every billboard and webpage, and every teen idol is sooner or later revealed topless or worse online, some might wonder what further proof could possibly be offered."
However Eberstadt searches for and finds even further concrete proof of the devolving of male/female relations right in the heart of the feminist movement, that great champion of contraception as the great liberator. Since 1968, she observes, "feminist literature has been a remarkably consistent and uninterrupted cacophony of grievance, recrimination, and sexual discontent. In that forty-year record, we find, as nowhere else, personal testimony of what the sexual revolution has done to womankind."
"The signature metaphors of feminism say everything we need to know about how happy liberation has been making these women: the suburban home as concentration camp, men as rapists, children as intolerable burdens, fetuses as parasites, and so on. These are the sounds of liberation? Even the vaunted right to abortion, both claimed and exercised at extraordinary rates, did not seem to mitigate the misery of millions of these women after the sexual revolution."
The author then turns her attention to the proliferation of pornography, which one social observer wrote, "is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’‘’ The fact is, Eberstadt writes, Archbishop Chaput of Denver was correct when he wrote that, rather than freeing women, "Contraception has released males - to a historically unprecedented degree - from responsibility for their sexual aggression."
Perhaps the most damning indictment of contraception in Eberstadt’s piece comes when she quotes from philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, who wrote about the inevitable slippery slope that would follow the acceptance of contraception: "If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here-not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)?"
"It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition."
Eberstadt goes on to make several more observations about the link between contraception, adultery, and prematerital sex. She also observes that the shortage of priests in the Church, and the clergy sex-abuse scandals, are deeply related to the widespread dissent by Catholic faithful and clergy against Humanae Vitae.
The author concludes by once again quoting Archbishop Chaput, who said ten years ago, "If Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself."
"This," says Eberstadt, "is exactly the connection few people in 2008 want to make, because contraceptive sex…is the fundamental social fact of our time….Despite an empirical record that is unmistakably on Paul VI’s side by now, there is extraordinary resistance to crediting Catholic moral teaching with having been right about anything, no matter how detailed the record."
Yet, for all of that, she concludes, "instead of vindication for the Church, there is demoralization; instead of clarity, mass confusion; instead of more obedience, ever less. Really, the perversity is, well, perverse. In what other area does humanity operate at this level of extreme, daily, constant contradiction?"
To read the original article in First Things, see: