Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.

The unavoidably human aspect of human sexuality

Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.
By Rebecca Oas Ph.D.
Image

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].

CLICK ‘LIKE’ IF YOU ARE PRO-LIFE!

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.

Only 7 days left!

Support pro-life news. Help us reach our critical spring fundraising goal by April 1!


Share this article

Advertisement
Featured Image
Credit: John-Henry Westen, LifeSiteNews
John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry

, ,

Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

John-Henry Westen John-Henry Westen Follow John-Henry
By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

Click "like" to support Catholics Restoring the Culture!

The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

Advertisement
Featured Image
Shutterstock.com
Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben

‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

Ben Johnson Ben Johnson Follow Ben
By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

Advertisement
Featured Image
Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com
Anne Hendershott

,

How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

Anne Hendershott
By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

Share this article

Advertisement

Customize your experience.

Login with Facebook