Pope OKs Contraceptive Use for Zika

March 2, 2016


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.



Thoughts on President Obama’s Contraception Quagmire with the Catholic Church

February 12, 2012


I’ve started to write on this topic a couple of times in the past week or so, but have gotten hung up each time on trying to keep it brief.  It’s just not a subject that lends itself to brevity.  But, together with the fact that my book’s main theme is the need to stabilize and even reduce our population, the events of this morning have me fired up enough to just wade in with my two cents’ worth.  First, while attending mass this morning, some guy felt it his duty to interrupt the service and educate the rest of us with a rant about “Obamacare” and the contraception mandate.  Later, after returning home and switching on the TV, George Stephanopolous’s round table discussion on this topic on “This Week” on ABC pushed me over the edge. 

So the following are some random thoughts on the subject.  First of all, there certainly is a valid concern about treading on the 1st amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom by mandating things that violate a religion’s beliefs.  That said, it seems to me that there’s a lot of political opportunism here.  The president was wrong to mandate that the Catholic Church pay for the cost of insurance coverage that includes contraception.  But that concern was laid to rest when he shifted the burden to insurance companies and mandated that they offer it for free to anyone who wants it.  The Church doesn’t pay for it, and no one takes advantage of it unless they want to.  But that’s not good enough for them.  Now it seems that the Church is over-reaching and is just as eager to trample people’s rights to make their own decisions about the use of contraception as they were eager to complain about their own rights being violated.  Republicans need to be careful here.  If the Church is perceived to be worried less about religious freedom and begins turning this into a fight over contraception, that’s a battle Obama would love to have, because it’s one he can’t lose. 

The federal government has no right to require religious groups to violate their beliefs.  It has every right – and a responsibility – to pass laws that dictate how business is to be conducted.  The problem arises when religious organizations branch out from attending to the spiritual needs of its members and begin operating businesses, like hospitals.  It’s not as though something like this hasn’t occurred before.  Where was all of this indignation when these businesses (like Catholic hospitals) were required to comply with equal opportunity laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?  Where is the indignation about complying with living wills and other end-of-life directives regarding the termination of life-support for terminally ill patients?  Where is the indignation about religious organizations being required to provide health insurance of any kind if they have more than a certain number of employees?  (I’m thinking here of Christian Science, who doesn’t believe in health care of any kind.)

What happened to all of the indignation about the plight of people who were unable to afford health coverage of any kind prior to the passage of health care reform?  Didn’t the council of American bishops of the Catholic Church eagerly support health care reform?  Where is the indignation with American businesses who have been eagerly slashing health care coverage from their benefits?   

And isn’t it hypocritical for the world’s biggest champion of never-ending population growth to then decry the unemployment and poverty that follows in its wake – to demand that the government do something to provide care for all these people and then piss and moan about the details?  Has it instead volunteered to care for all the poor who can’t afford health coverage?  Oh, sure, they’ll toss them a few crumbs – feed them and provide shelters.  But I’m talking about expensive, life-saving medical care.  Are they willing to provide that? 

That’s why I say that there seems to be just a little opportunism going on here by those anxious to fabricate another reason (something beyond the notion of excessive government intrusion into our lives) to rally opposition against “Obamacare.”  (By the way, I’ll be writing more about the whole issue of “government intrusion into our lives” in another post.) 

Finally, I’ll simply say that the president is right in his philosophy of making contraception free to anyone who wants it.  As anyone who reads this blog knows, I haven’t been a big fan of President Obama lately, but he’s right on this one.  And the Catholic Church is wrong to try to make opposition to contraception (as distinguished from “birth control,” a term which includes abortion) a matter of doctrine.  Just as the president has waded into a quagmire with some clumsy handling of this issue, the Catholic Church just can’t seem to resist wading into every quagmire it encounters.   Deeper and deeper it goes, parsing every issue into every conceivable situation, assigning mortal or venial sin status to every conceivable outcome, until the federal tax code pales in comparison to the book of Catholic doctrine.   Never mind that Christ Himself had nothing to say on the topic of family planning and contraception (since he’d have been greeted with blank stares at a time when the birth rate barely kept pace with the death rate), the Church can always draw upon some Old Testament verse of dubious relevance.   Whatever happened to the main mission of spreading the gospel of love and salvation?

The fact is this:  the vast majority of Catholics practice contraception.  The only reason that the Church continues to oppose contraception is because it has painted itself into a corner.  To now approve the practice would be an admission that prior popes were wrong, calling into question the issue of papal infallibility. 

Looking around the church this morning, there were few young people to be seen.  No wonder.  The longer the Church continues to intrude where it doesn’t belong and drag its feet on admitting to past mistakes, the more its membership and influence will decline.  A pity.

Progress in the Church’s Oppostion to Contraception?

April 1, 2010


As a Catholic myself, it pains me that the Church is so incredibly backward when it comes to its stance on the use of contraception, and that it uses such twisted logic to defend it.  So it was with some hope that I read this Reuters article (link above), reporting on comments by the Archbishop of Westminster, leader of the Catholic Church in England. 

“I think when it comes to Third World poverty, and the great pressure into which many women are put by men, I can see the arguments why, in the short-term, means that give women protection are attractive,” Nichols said in extracts of an interview released by BBC Radio WM before broadcast on Friday.

But then, apparently not wanting to get carried away and seem too wild and crazy, the archbishop tempered his remarks with the usual nonsense:

“The use of condoms doesn’t lack for champions; there are plenty of champions around giving and distributing condoms. I don’t think it’s the Church’s role simply to add its voice to that but rather, in contrast, to keep saying, “If we solve the poverty then consistently we know the birth rate comes down’.”

Tell me, Archbishop Nichols, after looking at a graph of world population for the past 2,000 years, how is that whole “solve poverty” thing working for us?  Since the industrial revolution began, poverty has been virtually wiped out in the Americas, in Europe and in parts of Asia.  But the result for the world’s population has been an explosion from less than one billion people 200 years ago to 6.8 billion people today – a much higher rate of population growth than at any other time in human history. 

Development isn’t the solution to an exploding population, it’s the cause.  Everyplace where even the most basic measures are introduced into an undeveloped region – things like simple sanitation and basic medicine – the death rate is driven down rapidly and a once-stable population suddenly explodes.  Eventually, over a long period of time, birth rates slowly follow the decline in the death rate, and populations stabilize once again, but only after many decades of explosive growth.  The end result is a population many times larger.  To then look at the situation and conclude that “solving poverty” was the solution to overpopulation is absolutely idiotic.  I want to scream every time I hear someone repeat this myth.

And then the article repeats the standard, goofy logic used to defend the Church’s opposition to contraception:

The Catholic Church opposes contraception saying it denies the divine gift of life.

Oh, really?  What about the divine gift of intelligence which actually makes us human, distinguishing us from the rest of the animal kingdom?  Though our Creator endowed us with the reproductive capacity to assure the survival of our species early in our history, when life expectancy was about 30 years of age, He also blessed us with the intellectual capacity needed to improve our lives and to rein in that reproductive capacity once it was no longer needed. 

If using our intellects to rein in our reproductive capacity is somehow meddling with His will, then isn’t it also logical that the application of that intellect to conquer diseases and extend our lives is also meddling with His will?  Isn’t the use of fertility methods like invitro fertilization  also contradictory to His will to deny the gift of life to some people?  How can any of us even know His will in these matters to begin with? 

If the archbishop’s comments on contraception are a sign of progress in  the softening of the Church’s stance against contraception, all I can say is that it’s a good thing that “progress” by the sciences didn’t occur at the same pace.  If it had, right at this moment, one of us cave men might be poking a stick through a hole in a round rock and celebrating the invention of the wheel.

Pope’s Easter Message

April 14, 2009


The linked article reports on the Pope’s Easter message, delivered to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.  It’s the following paragraph of his message that caught my attention:

At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty, of disturbing climate change, of violence and depravation which force many to leave their homelands in search of a less precarious form of existence, of the ever-present threat of terrorism, of growing fears over the future, it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope.

It just baffles me that a Pope and a Church that acknowledges this rising tide of problems that are so obviously linked to overpopulation remain steadfast in their opposition to contraception and their refusal to acknowledge that a state of overpopulation exists or is even possible.  It’s especially baffling when you consider that the Catholic Church is really rather progressive on other issues that some sects of Christianity oppose, like theories about the origin of the universe (like the Big Bang Theory) and evolution. 

Equally puzzling is the tortured logic they employ in their opposition to contraception.  It’s OK to prevent conception through use of the “rhythm” method, but it’s not OK to prevent conception through artificial means like pills, condoms or medical procedures.  It seems that the former method still allows for “God’s Will,” since there’s a chance that the rhythm method may not work.  There’s also a chance, admittedly less, that the artificial means may fail as well.  How does one thwart God’s will while the other doesn’t?  And does God really care exactly how it was done if His will was that a baby be conceived?  If that conception was prevented, will He really give us a pass if it was done through the rhythm method, just because the Pope decreed that that was OK?  If that’s His criteria, then it wouldn’t matter if the Pope conceded that the artificial means are equally acceptable. 

I give the Church credit for progress it’s made in acknowledging some of the problems that we now confront, like global warming.  Its recent claim that it’s a sin to harm the environment is one example.  But it has the power to do so much more by taking one tiny step.  By condoning contraception, it would remove a big barrier to leaders of Christian countries officially acknowledging overpopulation, allowing them to begin introducing population management policies.  And the Church needn’t fear that an acceptance of contraception starts them down a slippery slope toward condoning abortion, no more than fearing that the right to bear arms is a step toward condoning murder. 

I don’t believe that God would bless mankind with the high reproductive capacity needed to sustain us through our early history when our life expectancy was short, and with the intellect to conquer disease and improve and extend our lives, without also expecting us to employ that same intellect in managing the resulting excess reproductive capacity.  It’s not logical.  He doesn’t expect us to simply breed ourselves to ruin like a plague of locusts. 

Come on, Pope Benedict.  If you’re really concerned about the crises facing humanity, it’s time to do the right thing and become a real force in addressing them.  We can’t simply “rediscover” grounds of hope.  You need to proactively lay the foundation for that hope.

Philippine Struggle with Overpopulation and the Catholic Church

November 14, 2008


Yesterday, in response to one of my blog posts, reader Robert commented, “The fact is that the word ‘population’ is a taboo in our society and I fear it will never be addressed by our politicians.”  I share Robert’s concerns.  But all we can do is keep plugging away at the issue.  I thought it might help to realize that the issue is certainly getting concern in other nations, even in places where it would seem most unlikely.  For  example, every day I get Google blog alerts for the keyword “overpopulation.”  And almost daily I see blog postings from the Philippines, a heavily Catholic, grossly overpopulated and desperately poor nation.  Yet, in spite of their Catholic orientation, there is a fierce debate raging there, between traditional Catholics and those more progressive, about whether and how to stem their rapidly growing problem of overpopulation.  This linked article is just a sample. 

As this debate spreads across the world, can the United States not help but take notice?  Wouldn’t an intelligent leader look at these situations and ask him/herself, “My God, do we really want the U.S. to sink to this level before we take action ourselves?”  Sure, it’s a controverial topic, one that makes social security reform look like child’s play, but it’s one that demands to be addressed even more urgently.  If it can happen in the Philippines, it can certainly happen here.

Another “Overpopulation Myth” Diatribe from CatholicExchange.com

June 6, 2008


Steven Mosher of the “Population Research Institute” (not a research institute at all but, instead, an anti-abortion, anti-contraception, pro-population growth propaganda machine) is at it again, this time writing his same illogical, pro-population growth arguments for the Catholic Exchange web site. 

This guy is unbelievable.  He denies that overpopulation could ever be a problem.  He denies that the human population continues to expand rapidly, in spite of U.N. projections that it will grow by another 50% by 2050.  He denies global warming.  And he claims that efforts to lower the birth rate are unnecessary, offering up as evidence the low birth rates experienced in Western Europe that are actually the result of the contraception techniques he rails against! 

He rightfully  denounces the clumsy, heavy-handed approaches of nations like China and India to manage their populations.  Abortion and coerced methods of contraception should not be used.  People should be free to choose the size of their families.  Population stability can be attained and managed by much more elegant methods, like economic incentives.   But to paint all advocates of population stability and management with the same brush and to suggest that we all want to abort babies and forcibly sterilize people is an outrageous insult. 

Mosher uses half-truths and denial to justify his zeal for expanding our population and testing Earth’s ability to sustain life:

Now, however, the population-control minded environmentalists are back, and in full cry.  Walsh, for example, blames the sudden spike in food and fuel prices on too many people, arguing that “if we can’t curb carbon emissions in a world of 6.8 billion [these guys always exaggerate the numbers], it may be impossible to do when there are 9 billion of us.”  Leaving aside the question of whether we should control carbon dioxide — a trace gas on which all life on earth depends — blaming global warming on too many babies is the twisted logic of a profoundly misanthropic mind.  How much carbon dioxide we produce is a result of how much fossil fuel we burn, not how many children are born.  Nuclear power, for example, produces zero carbon dioxide.

Yeah, if CO2 is a trace gas, then it must be of no consequence.  Surely the environment is too unsophisticated to notice increases in the levels of trace gases.  And to suggest that there is no relationship between population and the amount of fuel that is burned is an outright lie.  It is actually Mosher who is misanthropic, preferring to see the world’s population eventually stabilize through a higher death rate than a lower birth rate.  He’d rather see billions of people live short lives in abject poverty than see a smaller population live long, fulfilling, productive lives. 

… Birthrates are falling everywhere, not just in “Western Europe and Japan.”  Europe as a whole — not just “Western Europe” — is losing population from year to year.  Latin America is not far behind, and even Asia is averaging only 2.4 children per woman — and falling.  The only region that still enjoys robust fertility is sub-Saharan Africa, most of whose countries, however, are plagued with HIV/AIDS, which is reducing population growth.  Population growth everywhere is slowing, not rising, and the population of the world will probably peak before mid-century.  In other words, what we are seeing is not a population bomb, but a population bust, with serious consequences for the whole realm of human endeavors.     

Every statement in this paragraph is a half-truth or outright lie.  Birth rates are not falling everywhere.  They are stable in many countries and falling in others, thanks to the birth control methods he denounces.  But Mosher omits the fact that death rates are declining even faster, producing a population explosion that threatens will reverse gains made in life expectancy if it continues.  Populations in Western Europe are not dropping.  They are being held steady by the importation of people from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, functioning as a population relief valve and enabling further destructive population growth in those areas.  In a Freudian slip that exposes his predisposition for favoring a high death rate, Mosher notes that HIV/AIDS is reducing population growth in Africa.  He is correct that population growth is slowing, but it continues to grow at a frightening pace.  And to suggest that we’re actually in the throes of some sort of “population bust” is nothing short of idiotic. 

I’m certain that once population stability has been achieved, people like Mosher will point to it and say “see, I told you there was never a problem!” while denying the work of countless people and the use of contraceptive techniques that was required to achieve it. 

A word of advice to anti-abortion organizations:  stick to abortion and to denouncing forced methods of birth control, but stop your illogical linkage with the voluntary use of contraception and stop using denial of overpopulation as a tactic.  It doesn’t work and only makes you look like fools.