Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.

The unavoidably human aspect of human sexuality

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
By Rebecca Oas Ph.D.
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June 15, 2012 (Zenit.org) – It could be said that the common enemy of the diet industry and the junk food industry is self-control.

Information from the World Health Organization indicates that global obesity has doubled since 1980[1], which suggests that self-control is not winning the fight. Many tactics have been attempted to curb this trend, due to the heavy cost of obesity, both to the individual’s health and the society’s health care system. Educational programs have been implemented to teach children good habits early in life, taxes have been levied against foods deemed to be nutritionally lacking, and restrictions have been placed on where and how such foods can be accessed. A recent attempt to ban the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces in New York City drew intense scrutiny, although it ultimately failed to pass into law. Meanwhile, popular diets lure people to join programs promising quick results “without dieting or exercise,” to quote a common slogan.

While psychologists tout the benefits of self-control and suggest that it can be increased through practice, it’s easy to see why campaigns to improve societal health don’t focus on this angle, and not only because impulsive consumption provides economic stimulus. Self-control, self-denial, and a willingness to forego immediate gratification are fundamentally moral concepts. A recent column in Time Magazine presented the notion that self-control, as highlighted during Lent, has benefits beyond the spiritual, referring to this as “the open secret of all religions”[2]. Nonetheless, even if you manage to convince people that self-control has its advantages, developing it in a society that emphasizes convenience, sensory pleasure, and material acquisition is an uphill battle.

One of the central difficulties in the field of public health is the fact that influencing large populations of people to make healthier choices is extremely difficult. This struggle is echoed in the realm of morality as well – both priests and medical doctors know that the advice they give in a confessional or examination room may fail to be effective when met with a lack of compliance on the part of the penitent or patient.

Nowhere is the uneasy association of public health and public morality more fraught with controversy than in the area of sexual behavior. While religious teachings, such as those of the Catholic faith, focus on self-control and a view of human sexuality in the context of the divine plan, public health officials focus on pragmatism, arguing that people will engage in potentially risky behavior regardless of the consequences, particularly when the behavior presents immediate sensory rewards. Public health advocates pay nominal tribute to the fact that reserving sexuality for a faithful and committed marriage affords the optimal outcomes both for the sexual health of the individual and the long-term well-being of the resulting children, but are then quick to point out that many people do not live according to this standard, even among those who claim to uphold it, and cite studies linking increased emphasis on abstinence-only education with increased rates of unintended pregnancy among teenagers[3].

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The gap between “ideal” and “typical” behavior exists among users of contraceptives as well as those who aspire to be abstinent. A recent survey of women who identify themselves as being sexually active and desiring reversible contraception measures revealed that the women overestimated the effectiveness of the contraceptives, especially those which rely more heavily on human compliance, such as condoms, pills, injections, patches, and rings[4]. In fact, nearly 60% of participants overestimated the ability of these measures to prevent an unintended pregnancy, a fact which the study’s authors attributed in part to the information contained in the manufacturer’s packaging of these products, which report failure rates with the assumption of perfect use.

It is worth pointing out that this survey was conducted as part of a program designed to promote the use of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), including intrauterine devices and implants. Another study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that approximately half of unintended pregnancies are attributable to contraceptive failure, emphasizing human error as the primary cause, again proposing LARC methods as the best solution[5]. However, the effort to promote the use of LARC methods may come at a cost: a recent report in the British Medical Journal indicates that non-oral contraceptives, including LARC methods, as well as contraceptive rings, carry a higher risk of serious blood clots than the pill, and the accompanying press release urged women to consider switching to oral contraceptives[6].

The idea that humans are not perfectly consistent or reliable is certainly no new revelation: the fallen nature of man is a central teaching of Christianity, and our capacity for error is unavoidably evident to religious and non-religious people alike. So it should come as no surprise that people often fail at both abstinence and contraception, in much the same way as we often fail to exercise moderation when we eat. But where the religious and the secular world diverge is in the response after a failure occurs. Within the Catholic Church can be found methods to grow in virtues like self-control, the Sacrament of Confession for when we fall, and a spirit of gratitude and welcome for new life, even when its arrival is unintended. In contrast, the secular world, having long-since abandoned sexual self-control, can only view unintended pregnancy as a tragedy, and one to be avoided by adopting forms of contraception that place a woman at increased risk of life-threatening blood clots, for the sake of avoiding maternity.

In the United States, there has been widespread controversy regarding the sex education curricula presented in public schools, with some favoring “abstinence-only” education and others touting a more comprehensive approach. Critics of “abstinence-only” education object to its moralistic tone, exemplified by the language in its definition that condemns all extramarital sexual activity[7]. While some might argue that this standard, which derives from Judeo-Christian morality, should not be part of a curriculum presented to students who may or may not embrace that worldview, the separation of public health and public morality into discrete boxes is apparently only desirable when it curtails the establishment of moral standards. When Pope Benedict XIV reiterated the Church’s stance against barrier methods of contraception in 2009, it ignited a huge controversy, partly due to the tendency of many news outlets to take his words out of context, but also because he challenged the notion that condoms are the best solution to the worldwide AIDS epidemic. In fact, he went further; lost in the media tempest regarding condoms was his plea for the “humanization of sexuality”[8].

The Holy Father’s words call us back to the recognition that humans are endowed with intelligence and free will[9], and while this means we are capable of falling, it also means we are able to succeed and improve ourselves through the development of virtue. However, the harmony that exists within the Church’s teachings on human sexuality cannot be replicated outside of a framework that acknowledges the importance of self-control, the procreative aspect of human sexuality, and the value of human life at all stages. Only when we acknowledge the harms caused by lust and gluttony can we fully appreciate the benefits of chastity and temperance, and only when we embrace self-mastery can we know both its difficulty and its desserts.

(1) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/

(2) http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/23/lent-and-the-science-of-self-denial/

(3) http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0024658

(4) Eisenberg DL, Secura GM, Madden TE, Allsworth JE, Zhao Q, Peipert JF. Knowledge of contraceptive effectiveness. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2012 Jun;206(6):479

(5) Winner B, Peipert JF, Zhao Q, Buckel C, Madden T, Allsworth JE, Secura GM. Effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraception. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2012 May 24;366(21):1998-2007.

(6) http://www.bmj.com/press-releases/2012/05/09/study-adds-evidence-clot-risks-non-oral-contraceptives

(7) http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title05/0510.htm

(8) http://www.zenit.org/rssenglish-31026

(9) http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s2c1p4.htm#311

This article originally appeared on Zenit.org and is reprinted with permission.


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Émile Bayard's classic illustration of Cosette in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables.
Anthony Esolen Anthony Esolen Follow Anthony

Tracts and sermons alone won’t form pro-life children. Here’s what will.

Anthony Esolen Anthony Esolen Follow Anthony
By Anthony Esolen

What is remarkable in our age is not that half of our citizens believe it is wrong to kill the child in the womb, the child whose existence, except in the rare case of rape, is owing to our own voluntary actions.  That would be like congratulating ourselves for believing that it's wrong to steal someone's car, to lie under oath to hurt an enemy, to throw our aged parents into the street, or to desecrate churches.  Where is the great moral insight?  What's remarkable instead is that half of us believe it is all right to snuff out the life of that child – because nothing must be allowed to interfere with our “right” to pursue pleasure, as we use the child-making thing as a sweating-off spa on our way to money, prestige, a five-bathroom mansion for two, a tenured chair in Women's Studies, the mayoralty of Camden, another year of nights out on the town, whatever.

How have we come to this pass?  Our imaginations are stunted or diseased, that's how.
 Let churchgoers beware.  You cannot spread pro-life icing on a cake made of flour and rat poison.  Our children meet with rat poison everywhere.  Do they watch Friends on television, that un-funny amoral “comedy” about nihilist young urbanites trading depressions in the mattress with one another?  Rat poison.  Do they watch movies like – well, the moronic Titanic, wherein a shrewish girl and a pouty boy fornicate before they are swallowed by the deep blue sea?  Rat poison.  Do their school teachers feed them such exalted lyric poetry as that of Sylvia Plath, imagining what it would be like to smash her sleeping husband's head like a rotten pumpkin?  Or the bogus Laramie Project, making a hero out of a deeply disturbed young man, killed in a meth deal?  Or Toni Morrison's maudlin obsessions with race and adultery?  Is it an endless cafeteria of ghouls, vampires, girl-murderers – Lord of the Flies, without the severe moral imagination and the talent of William Golding?  Lord of the Flies, Lady of the Flies, Cheerleaders of the Flies, Lifeguard of the Flies, Mr. Goodbar of the Flies, Fight Club of the Flies, Hunger of the Flies?  Rat poison, with that peculiar character of rat poison, that the more the critter consumes, the thirstier it grows.  Vice is the addiction that mimics the habit of virtue.  One hour a week on Sunday does not flush out the strychnine.  Theology lessons are band-aids when your arteries are porous inside.  The forming of a moral imagination is not something additional in the education of a child.  It is the education of a child. 

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Your child sees a commercial for Planned Predators.  The commercial baldly states that it doesn't matter who your “partners” are, how many you have, or what you do – because you are the only one who has any say in the matter, and nobody has the right to judge you.  This is not the morality of a cad or a tramp.  Cads and tramps have attacks of conscience.  It is the bland oh-so-self-assured anti-morality of a demon.  It is one hundred proof grain stupidity.  It is distilled evil.  Now, we want to raise children who will do more than say, “I don't agree with that.”  Wonderful enlightenment!  We want to raise children who would look upon anyone who uttered such a thing as they would look upon someone who would fish his food out of a septic tank: incomprehensible, base, inhuman, insane.  That's the negative.  Let me give the positive.  We want to raise children who will understand and cherish the virtues of love and purity.  Those virtues must not remain mere terms or notions.  We must clothe them with flesh and blood.  Consider the following scene from Victor Hugo's masterpiece, Les Miserables.  Two pure young people, Marius and Cosette, have long beheld one another from a distance.  They have fallen in love, and finally, after many months and much seeking, the youth and the maiden meet and speak.  Here is how Hugo describes what they do every evening:

Throughout the month of May . . . in that poor, wild garden, under that shrubbery each day more perfumed and dense, two human beings composed of every chastity and every innocence, overflowing with all the felicities of Heaven, closer to archangels than men, pure, honest, intoxicated, radiant, glowed for each other in the darkness.  It seemed to Cosette that Marius had a crown, and to Marius that Cosette had a halo.  They touched, they gazed at each other, they clasped hands, they pressed close together; but there was a distance they did not pass.  Not that they respected it; they were ignorant of it.  Marius felt a barrier, Cosette's purity, and Cosette had a support, Marius' loyalty.  The first kiss was also the last.  Since then, Marius had not gone beyond touching Cosette's hand, or her scarf, or her curls, with his lips.  Cosette was to him a perfume, and not a woman.  He breathed her.  She refused nothing and he asked nothing.  Cosette was happy, and Marius was satisfied.  They were living in that ravishing condition that might be called the dazzling of one soul by another.  It was that ineffable first embrace of two virginities within the ideal.

Victor Hugo was a man well acquainted with the squalor of the streets, and the wicked things that people do to themselves and one another.  His blood ran hot, not cold – hot with indignation against the wickedness, and hot with greathearted love for what is noblest in man; with what he would call the work of God in man.  Our purveyors of rat poison have not witnessed one hundredth of the miseries and the sins that he witnessed!  But they turn our children's vision to what is dark and dead, and he raises our eyes to the everlasting hills, whence cometh our help.
 We want to raise boys like Marius and girls like Cosette.  We cannot do it with tracts in church teaching and a sermon on Sunday, as needful as those things are.  They may give us the moral, but they do not nourish the imagination.  Without story, without flesh and blood, they flare in the ear but do not ring in the conscience.  Hence the need for art and song, for stories and poetry.  Jesus taught in parables.  These are not just instruments.  They are of the essence.


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Thaddeus Baklinski Thaddeus Baklinski Follow Thaddeus

Medical staff arrested in India after accidentally aborting baby at 8 months

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

A doctor and a nurse at a prominent private hospital in India have been arrested after they allegedly administered abortion drugs to a eight-months pregnant woman accidentally, resulting in the death of her unborn child.

"We have immediately registered a case and arrested the doctor, whose negligent act has caused this," said South Jammu Superintendent of Police Rahul Malik, according to the Hindustan Times.

The woman's husband, Rakesh Sharma, told the paper that the doctor mistook Shruti Sharma for another patient who was scheduled for an abortion at the JK Medicity Hospital in Jammu on Friday afternoon.

Shruti had gone to the hospital after her gynecologist advised a routine medical examination to safeguard her and her baby's health.

Rakesh alleged that the doctor gave his wife the abortion pills without consulting her medical records. “Doctors and paramedical staff instead of administering glucose, gave her abortion medicine, which was actually meant for another patient,” he said.

"It is the worst case of negligence. I feel strongly that such hospitals should be closed. If this has happened to me today, tomorrow it can happen to any body else," Rakesh said.

While the JK Medicity's administration said it has launched an inquiry into the incident, a report from the Jagran Post stated that the district government has revoked the hospital's license.

"Jammu and Kashmir Government has ordered sealing of the private clinic after suspension of its license to operate in the wake of the incident," said Minister for Health and Medical Education Taj Mohiuddin according to the report.

National media have reported that the incident has brought illegal abortion practices in India to the attention of both the public and government officials.

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According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is legal in India up to 20 weeks. However, the opinion of a second doctor is required if the pregnancy is past its 12th week, and abortion-inducing drugs such as mifepristone and misoprostol are allowed only by prescription up until the seventh week of pregnancy.

Moreover, abortions can be performed only in government licensed medical institutions by registered abortionists.

Indian Express reported that the accused in the incident, Dr Amarjeet Singh, practices ayurvedic medicine (traditional Hindu medicine) and is "unsuitable for carrying out abortions."

A video posted by IndiaTV shows the parents surrounded by family members and relatives at a protest outside the JK Medicity hospital where the group is demanding punishment for those involved in the death of the child.


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Kirsten Andersen Kirsten Andersen Follow Kirsten

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News editor fired for criticizing ‘gay Bible’, files complaint

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By Kirsten Anderson

The former editor-in-chief of Iowa’s Newton Daily News has filed a religious discrimination complaint after he was fired over a post on his private blog criticizing the pro-gay Queen James Bible.

The Bible revision was produced by homosexual activists who claim to have edited the eight most commonly cited verses against homosexual behavior “in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”

On his private blog, which has since been deactivated, Bob Eschliman wrote in April that “the LGBTQXYZ crowd and the Gaystapo” are trying to reword the Bible “to make their sinful nature ‘right with God.’”

After public outcry from homosexual activists, Shaw Media, which owns the paper, fired him on May 6.

In a statement the day of his firing, Shaw Media President John Rung said Eschliman’s “airing of [his opinion] compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”

“There will be some who will criticize our action, and mistakenly cite Mr. Eschliman’s First Amendment rights as a reason he should continue on as editor of the Newton Daily News,” Rung said.  “As previously stated, he has a right to voice his opinion. And we have a right to select an editor who we believe best represents our company and best serves the interests of our readers.”

Rung said the company has a duty “to advocate for the communities we serve” and that “to be effective advocates, we must be able to represent the entire community fairly.”

Eschliman, who has been writing professionally since 1998 and became editor-in-chief of the Newton Daily News in 2012, says that the company was aware of his personal blog when he was hired and never indicated it would be a problem for him to continue sharing his personal political and religious views.

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In his religious discrimination complaint against the company, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he says that he believes he was singled out for termination because of his Christian views concerning homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

“As a lifelong writer, I have maintained a personal blog on the Internet with some personal thoughts and writings,” Eschliman wrote. “Newton Daily News, my employer, never had a policy prohibiting personal blogging, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media. In fact, my employer encouraged us to engage in social media on a personal level and I am aware of several employees of Newton Daily News who continue to blog and are still employed with Shaw Media.”

“There is no question that I was fired for holding and talking about my sincerely held religious beliefs on my personal blog during my off-duty time from the comfort of my own home,” Eschliman wrote. “Shaw Media directly discriminated against me because of my religious beliefs and my identity as an evangelical Christian who believes in Holy Scripture and the Biblical view of marriage.

“Moreover, Shaw Media announced that not only were they firing me based upon my religious beliefs, but that they would not hire or allow anyone to work at Shaw Media who holds religious beliefs similar to mine, which would include an automatic denial of any accommodation of those who share my sincerely held religious beliefs,” he added.

Neither Shaw Media nor the Newton Daily News have been willing to provide further comment to the press on the matter, citing pending litigation.

Matthew Whitaker, an attorney with Liberty Institute who is assisting Eschliman with his complaint, said the law is on his client’s side.

“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” Whitaker said in a statement. “In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public.  This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”

According to Whitaker, if the EEOC rules in Eschliman’s favor, Shaw Media could be forced to give him back pay, front pay, and a monetary settlement.


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