This is stale news, but I can’t let it pass without comment. A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis was asked whether it’s permissible to relax the Catholic Church’s ban on the use of contraceptives in places like Brazil where cases of microcephaly among newborns has skyrocketed as a result of the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes.
For those unaware, the Catholic Church has long opposed virtually all methods of contraception except for “natural” family planning – avoiding sex when the woman is most fertile. As stated in the above-linked article, the Catholic catechism states that anything that works to “‘render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.”
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has gone well beyond Christ’s charge to spread the gospel, and has interpreted some of his teachings as empowering the pope to make rules and pass judgment on aspects of our lives that have little or nothing to do with Christ’s teachings. This has led to various forms of abuse and corruption over the ages.
Many dumb rules persist. Excluding women from the priesthood. Forbidding priests to marry. Forbidding divorce. But this rule about contraception is probably the dumbest of all. The rationale offered by the church breaks down no matter which way you look at it.
This rule is rooted in the belief that it is God’s will that humanity thrive and grow. OK, fair enough. I won’t argue that point. Beyond that, however, who’s to say how that plan fits into God’s plan for the world? Obviously, God created an extremely complex ecosystem with checks and balances to keep everything on an even keel. In the early days of man’s existence, our ability to have offspring every nine months, year-in and year-out, was necessary to assure the survival of the species in the face of disease and famine and other factors that kept infant mortality high and life spans short. But God gave us brains that He expected us to use to tame these forces and improve our lives.
So which was God’s will – that starvation, disease and exposure to the elements kill us off prematurely, or that we employ such things as medicine to counteract them? It seems clear to me from Christ’s parable about the talents that He expected us to use our brains to better ourselves. So if He expects us to use our brains to reduce our death rate, isn’t it logical that He would also expect us to use our brains to rein in the excess procreative capacity that we’re left with? Surely He doesn’t expect us to procreate ourselves to the point of becoming like a plague of locusts, whose population then collapses when resources are exhausted.
So how did regulating our procreative capacity become “intrinsically evil?” What about the vow of chastity that the clergy take? That surely renders procreation impossible. So how is that not evil? Suppose everyone decided that they wanted to be a priest or nun, and took a vow of chastity? The human race would soon be extinct. Wouldn’t that be evil? Even if it was only Christians who took such a vow, Christianity would soon be wiped from the face of the earth, extinguishing Christ’s message. That would be evil.
Natural family planning, if done with discipline, can be very effective in avoiding procreation. So does God really care whether one employs that method over some other form of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies if the result is the same? Doesn’t that seem a bit silly and illogical for someone like God?
Back to the example of the Zika virus. It seems that not every case of Zika among pregnant women results in microcephaly. So the use of contraception will make procreation impossible, while rolling the dice with Zika could still yield healthy babies. Which does God prefer in this case? Is Zika itself “evil,” or is it just one of those factors that nature uses to maintain balance in the world? If God wanted to, couldn’t He intervene and protect the unborn from the ravages of this disease? So why doesn’t He? Is it possible that He expects us to put our intellects to work in fighting the disease and avoid giving birth to damaged babies when possible?
No one knows the answers to such questions. In the same way, no one can claim to know God’s will when it comes family planning or the larger issue of stabilizing our population. The Church’s ban on the use of contraceptives is stupid and has probably done more to perpetuate and proliferate poverty and misery than any other human-imposed factor. I suspect that this Pope would be perfectly happy to strike down this ban (as one of his predecessors nearly did at the request of bishops years earlier), if it wouldn’t result in an uproar among the ever-shrinking conservative wing of the Church. I think more people would be attracted to the Catholic faith if it weren’t for all of the dumb rules like this one. As a Catholic, I find this whole controversy to be downright embarrassing.