[WARNING: I speak quite explicitly about some sexual topics in this post, so if that level of frankness bothers you, tread carefully.]
I am going to discuss a controversial subject, and many of you may not like what I have to say. But the topic needs to be addressed. I’ve had the following (and many other related) thoughts on my mind for quite some time. Now is simply when I’ve decided to get them out in the open. Away we go.
I have a feeling that many, even most, of you don’t know that I am rather vehemently opposed to artificial birth control. That’s right: I think sexual contraception is immoral. Some people, when they discover this dark secret about me, have said, “Isn’t that only something Catholics believe?” (as if that somehow automatically disqualifies it from credulity). Well, yes, it is a standard almost exclusively upheld by the Catholic Church — today, that is. Prior to 1930, however, every major Christian fellowship on the planet — Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. — objected just as strongly to contraception as an immoral and unbiblical practice. Luther, Calvin and Wesley, to name just a few major classical Protestant leaders, penned some of the most strident denunciations of birth control you could find. As far back as the Didache (c. AD 90), a magisterial reservoir of post-apostolic teaching, artificial birth control was condemned by the early Church right along with abortion as a foul, pagan practice. For literally two millennia, the rejection of contraception — in principle if not, sadly, always in practice — was a hallmark of the Church’s holiness – its “differentness” — from the world. But then at the 1930 Lambeth conference, the Anglican Church officially pronounced contraception to be acceptable in certain rare conditions. The dike was broken. The waters of sexual autonomy coursed over the USA and Europe like an icy flood.
I won’t go to any great lengths describing the effects this compromise has had on our culture. Do I really need to? Divorce, abortion, etc. Instead, I’ll let Steve Kellmeyer tell you a bit more about the harmful consequences of our devolution into a contraceptive society. Except for his overly grim conclusion, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Kellmeyer. I strongly encourage you hear him out.
However, before I post his words on this topic, I might as well explain why I myself reject contraception. (To be honest, I feel obligated to do so almost entirely in virtue of the overwhelming light of Christian tradition pointing me that way. Who do I think I am to overrule the almost unanimous testimony of the Body of Christ?) For now, I won’t go into any great technical philosophical or theological depths about my position. Basically I reject contraception because it 1) brings deceit into the bedroom, 2) violates the obvious reproductive telos God designed in the sex act, 3) encourages sexual immaturity, and 4) gives men yet more freedom to trifle with women.
1) I will not address the obvious moral problem of abortifacient contraception, that is, contraceptives that kill a fertilized ovum. It’s one of my working assumptions that killing human life at any level of its development is wrong. Hence, in this discussion, when I refer to contraception, I have in mind the more “harmless,” pre-fertile forms of contraception, like condoms, diaphragms, spermicidals, etc.
2) I do consider masturbation, oral sex, handjobs and anal sex to be forms of contraception. In fact, those are forms of contraceptive sex par excellence: pure pleasure, risk-free, infertile. This is not to say we cannot enjoy sexual stimulation by these means. It simply means an ejaculatory, orgasmic climax of pleasure by these means is immoral.
3) Since this post’s title might seem unfair to involuntarily infertile couples, I should clarify that I mean voluntarily sterile sex is not sex. Couples that suffer from natural fertility only underscore the perversity of freely chosen infertility (a.k.a., contraception). Infertility, in fact, may be the only handicap we as a people gleefully embrace. I hope it is clear to you that there is an essential moral difference between a couple performing sex acts they have found to be infertile despite their best intentions, and a couple choosing to perform them contraceptively knowing they would otherwise be fertile.)
First, contraception is sexual deception. When a husband and wife have sex, they are saying “I do” in the most intimate way possible. Marriage is a sacrament of the total self-giving of a man and a woman to each other in the ambit of God’s love. Each sex act is a renewal of a couple’s wedding vows. We see plainly how absurd it is for a man to say he gives himself fully to his wife but refuses to share his money with her. That is fiscal contraception; it’s a fiscal limitation on the total self-giving to which God, in marriage, calls us. Contraception is simply a sexual limitation we place on that total self-giving. It is wrong for a man or woman to say “I do” at the altar but then say “I do not” in the sex act. Contraception is wrong because it is not only a lie about what marriage is, but also a theft of your person — in its fertile dimensions — after you claimed to “sell yourself” totally to your spouse.
At this point someone might retort that contraception is not bad if it is mutually accepted by a mature couple. But no, that just further limits their self-giving. Two wrongs, mutual or not, don’t make a right. Mutual or unilateral, contraceptive marriage is still a perverse limitation of the total self-giving — not to mention total other-receiving — that God intends marriage to be. In effect the man is saying to the woman, “I won’t give myself this much,” and a wife that accepts this condition is, in effect, saying, “Well, good, I don’t want you that much either.” Now, pardon my frankness, but when a man puts his penis inside a woman, he is saying something quite plain and quite profound: “I am all yours.” But if he also puts a condom over his penis, he is saying something equally profound, only less plain: “I am not quite all yours. My fertility is still mine.” Contraception is saying “I love you” with your fingers crossed. A condom does not simply put a physical barrier between a couple; it puts a spiritual barrier between them as well. I am sorry again to be perhaps too explicit, but if God used contraception, He would claim to be inside us by the Holy Spirit, but would actually maintain a protective barrier, a sort of heavenly condom, between us and Himself.
As for the second point, is it really that hard to see what sex is “for”? Is it that hard to see where sex “aims”? Does anyone really think sex won’t, in almost every case, produce a child? No, no, no. Sex is as plain as the birds and the bees because that’s how God made it. But when we practice contraception, we are trying to fool ourselves. We are trying to condition ourselves to believe sex exists, or functions, on two different planes – first, the reproductive level, second, the hedonistic level – when we can plainly see it actually exists on both planes at once. Sex is a reproductive act of pleasure; sex is a pleasurable act of reproduction. Whichever way you say it, whichever emphasis you prefer, is irrelevant. What is relevant is that contraception tries to sever the mysterious duality of sex. What God has put together, let not man put asunder. When we use contraception, we are, in effect, telling God we know better than He does how to “use” sex. We place ourselves in control over the natural reproductive cycle, rather than working with and respecting the periods of fertility and infertility God places in a woman.
Although Mr. Kellmeyer addresses this point in his essay, I feel I should also mention the relationship between homosexuality and contraception. Not enough people realize it, but the Church’s rejection of homosexuality is actually derivative from its more fundamental rejection of contraceptive sex. The error in much of the current discussion of gay sex is that we fail to respect the fact that the fecundity of sex is actually more fundamental than the particular mechanics of sex. What I mean is that the rightness of heterosexual sex is not based on how straight people have sex, but on what sex itself means. The problem is not that gay people “do sex wrong” (in fact, literally ass-backwards), but that they do not “do sex” at all. Gay sex is immoral not because it is not heterosexual but because it is sterile. Gay sex is immoral, in part, because it is a willful participation in contraceptive sex, just without the bells and whistles modern “sexual therapy” offers us. To be quite honest, the only difference between straight contraceptive sex and gay sex is that the former is, for now, more acceptable to our aesthetic sensibilities. (The same goes for masturbation; gay sex is simply masturbation done with the help of another person’s body, a whole-body handjob.)
It was this simple, thunderous epiphany that set me against the platitudes we hear so often today that gay sex is “just as good as” straight sex. Gay sex is not just as good as straight sex, objectively speaking, for the sheer fact that, in every instance, gay sex is infertile and it thereby allows the lovers to be selfish, “free” from the “risk” of having a child (as if children were the latest STD). Beacuse it is risk-free, gay sex is inherently selfish, and for that reason alone I find it morally flawed.
Now, it is a separate consideration whether gay platonic love is immoral, a proposition I deny. The problem is that gay love, in so many ways, even by its greatest advocates, has been reduced to gay sex. But please note: I am objecting to gay sex, not “gayness” as such. We would all do well in these discussions to differentiate between the whole cosmos of gay life and the strictly infertile nature of gay sex. I am addressing and critiquing the latter, not the former. I openly and readily admit there is much good in many of the aims of the homosexual community. But what I flatly deny is any moral good in gay sex as such. Even so, having said all that, I’m willing to meet gay advocates halfway: gay sex is just as good as most contemporary straight sex because most contemporary straight sex is just as gleefully sterile as gay sex always is.
To proceed, the third reason (in this present discussion) I reject of contraception is that it encourages sexual immaturity. By this I mean that contraception allows us to enjoy consequence-free sex. One of the main defenses I’ve heard for contraception (from Christians, I might add) is that it gives couples the “freedom” to “enjoy each other” at the “spur of the moment” without the “fear” of bringing another child into the world. What a nightmare, the argument goes, what a source of unneeded marital stress it must be to worry during every sex act whether the wife will get pregnant, right? Well, no. To be honest, I find such reasoning miserable and shallow. Contraception makes us immature lovers because, under its seductive sway, we succumb to the fear of life. It’s already bad enough that we fear death when the only thing we should fear is God. Contraception only makes things worse by giving us a voluntarily habitual fear of death and life, but not God.
Remember, the argument is that contraception helps couples express their love more “spontaneously,” less child-consciously, in those sudden moments of raw passion. But this argument rests on a grave underestimation not only of what passionate love is but also of what children are. Passion, technically speaking, means suffering. The etymology of the word “passion” conveys the idea that you can suffer (passio) in two ways: either under the wiles of vice or under the trials of life, either under sin or under the virtuous fight against sin. “Passionate” love, then, comes in two flavors: hedonistic and monogamous. Contraceptive passion is the former; but real, deep, mature, Christian passion is the latter. The porn industry is passionate in the first sense of the word. It’s a bad flavor of passion, but we all know it too well. Jesus Christ, by contrast, was and is passionate in the second sense. That, my friends, is a flavor we know all too poorly. When people say they want to be free to love a lover without fear, they mean they want to love in a short-term, hedonistic way. They want the passion they feel to flourish and die in the strictly defined boundaries of the sex act. They want the porn flavor of passion. Contraceptive sex makes us immature because it rivets our focus on the hedonistic intensity of each isolated sex act.
But mature, Christian sexual passion is wide open to the lifelong extension of
sexual passion. It is the flavor of passion we see in Jesus Christ. The crucial difference between fertile and contraceptive sex is that the former wants the intensity of sexual passion as well as the duration of it in(to) the drama of raising a child. Contraceptive sex fractures the love of a married couple into discrete, sterile — albeit intensely pleasurable — events. In contraceptive sex, there is no continuity of love once the lovers climax. Fertile, Christian sex, by contrast, protects the continuous totality of married love by letting the hot blood of sexual passion flow into the veins of a new life for as long as God sees fit to let them extend. Raising that new life will only deepen a couple’s passion by extending it beyond that brief episode sexual bliss into each day until they die.
Contraception is a symptomatic abuse of a fast-food culture, a microwave people. We like our sex short and sweet and ready to roll, not heavy and drawn out as an act of love over the course of pregnancy and child-raising. Contraceptive sex is flash-bulb passion; Christian sex is a whole family album. Contraceptive, immature sex is meant to limit the effects of so-called “passion” to what we feel for a few moments. It is decidedly not meant to open the rest of our lives to sharing the results of those passionate moments. Like contraception itself, contraceptively hedonistic passion limits the total self-giving of biblical love. It is the way passionate lovers say, “I love you passionately — but only for right now.” Fertile, biblical passion, on the other hand, is the way people say, “I love you now and if we shall raise a child together out of this moment.”
Recall that we are made in the image of God. Part of being made in His image includes the ability to make other people in our image. We are fecund because God is fecund. It follows, then, that being fecund is good. In fact, every increase in being is inherently good, because there is no more fundamental a good than being itself, by sheer virtue of the fact that all things partake of God’s Being. Sex, then, is not merely a “Yes!” to our beloved — which, as an act of love, is also a “Yes!” to God — but is also a “Yes!” to being itself — which is, as I say, also a “Yes!” to God’s sheer goodness of being.
But contraception is a “No!” to being. It is, therefore, also a “No!” to God. While every sex act is, at some level, a “Yes!” to God, every child is a “Yes!” from God to us. Every child is a direct gift from the hand of God. Every child, even the ones marred and handicapped by being brought by fallen parents into a fallen world, is God’s way of telling us, “I am the Author of life and life is good!” The tragic problem is that when we short-circuit sex with contraception, we also stifle the full expression of our dignity as fecund, divine image-bearers in marriage, and, by degrees, in the world. When we indulge in contraception we make ourselves immature by forfeiting our rights to grow and live as (non-Christian) people made in the image of God, and as (Christian) people being remade in His image.
Finally, the fourth reason I reject contraception is that it allows men to play with women. Think about it. If a man knows he can just slip on a jimmy cap, he also knows he can fool around with his secretary without any – well, almost without any – risk of getting caught: no STDs, no unwanted kids, no semen as evidence. There’s no need to elaborate on this point. Every man reading what I’m saying knows, at some dark primal level, how tempting it would be to have consequence-free sex with any woman he meets. And, that ladies and gentlemen, is the terrifying power of contraception. It’s the latest and greatest weapon in the arsenal of the ancient sex wars. With the dagger of contraception in hand, a man can look at a woman and say, “Ha! You can’t get me. My seed is mine and I can do what I like with you, or at least parts of you.” What’s even sadder is that, with the help of contraception, a woman can look just as savagely back at a man and say, “Ha! You can’t get me either. My fertility is mine, and this little pill means you can’t get to me. I can do whatever I like with you, or at least parts of you.” Fertility is one of the greatest gifts – or weapons – God has given us. But contraception is our way of stripping each other of that gift, of disarming each other for our own protection.
Well, that’s more than enough for now. Without further ado, please give Mr. Kellmeyer a good hearing:
A Deafening Silence
Isn’t it odd? Although the leaders of dozens of Christian groups have denounced gay marriage, the rank and file have not had much to say about it. From such disparate sources as the Washington Post and Chuck Colson, the chattering class is beginning to become aware of a simple fact: most Christians don’t care.
It raises an obvious question: why don’t they care? Colson opines that the lack of outcry is due to pessimism and defeatism amongst the rank-and-file. Christians are so oppressed by the culture that they are throwing in the towel. Other Christian leaders pin the problem on larger distractions: the war in Iraq, the economy, etc. Everyone says it may have something to do with it being an election year, arguing that this is traditionally a time when controversial issues are avoided.
Bunk and balderdash.
Election years are precisely when controversial issues are embraced. Christians haven’t thrown in the towel: they are still pushing hard on things like television and radio decency controls, for example. Nor have they surrendered on a myriad of other issues. The problem is simply this: no one thinks homosexuality is a big deal. The left won this issue before the religious leaders even woke up to the idea that there might be a fight. And I can tell you exactly how it happened.
I became aware of the problem over a year ago in a discussion with a local activist. She and her husband were working to stop a strip bar from opening in a city neighborhood in Peoria, Illinois. They were gathering signatures in front of every church. I stopped after Mass to sign their petition, and to ask them a question. Peoria had recently passed an ordinance outlawing job or rent discrimination against active homosexuals. Why hadn’t I seen them out in front of the churches trying to stop that ordinance, which had been front page news just before the strip bar surfaced? The answer was simplicity itself: “Well, we don’t get into bedroom issues.”
“Really?” I responded. “So how is the door to a bar different from a door to a bedroom? They are both doors. They are both guarding access to private property. Would you drop your opposition to the strip bar if someone actually slept there every night, thus making it a bedroom? Would you drop your opposition if the bar featured live sex instead of simply featuring strippers?”
She was offended by the question. She insisted that gay sex was not something she had a right to an opinion on, but a strip bar was: it would lower property values.
You see? She was only allowed to have an opinion on the strip bar because it wasn’t a bedroom issue, it was a tax issue, a property valuation issue. Gay marriage is neither a tax nor a property valuation issue – at least not in any obvious way – so Christians don’t care.
But it goes much deeper than this. The Christian attitude towards sex is, today, very simple: “as long as no one is hurt,” you may engage in whatever sexual practice you like. Dr. Dobson of the Family Research Center has no problem with masturbation. Most Christian denominations have no problem with contraception. So why should we oppose gay sex or gay marriage? After all, what is the real difference between masturbating, having condomized sex, or having gay sex? Each provides about the same amount of physical gratification, and sex – like marriage – is primarily about gratification, right?
I am married as long as my spouse is willing to serve me, as long as I am being fed, as long as I am getting something out of the relationship. When that stops, when the relationship is “spiritually dead” or my spouse is getting physical pleasure elsewhere through an affair, then I can divorce. If we assume that this is a reasonable way to act, it is not possible to make a case opposing gay marriage.
The reason we can’t make the case is we don’t have a case, not anymore. You see, contraception within marriage redefined marriage, just as the Washington Post and the Pope predicted it would back in the 1930’s. Once contraception is acceptable, marriage is no longer about family, it is now about me. Now every relationship hinges on one thing: what’s in it for me?
The public acceptance of gay sex and gay marriage is functionally identical to public acceptance of contraception. Heterosexual contraception has already brought us legal abortion, a fifty percent divorce rate and a pornographic society: all of these problems mushroomed only after contraception was legalized. Gay marriage is just contraception without the chemicals or condoms. How can you convince a woman on the pill or a man with a wallet full of condoms that gay marriage is going to harm heterosexual marriage?
It can’t be done because it isn’t true. Marriage was dealt a death-blow when the Protestant Comstock laws were struck down. Once we were no longer permitted to forbid the manufacture or sale of contraceptives, we lost the ability to deal with deliberately sterilized sex in any form whatsoever. Like masturbation, gay sex and gay marriage are just another form of contraception. Indeed, the beauty of gay marriage is that their divorces are much less likely to impact children, since they will, by definition, tend not to have any. Contracepting heterosexuals know a kindred spirit when they see one. They certainly aren’t going to cast a stone at gays.
The move to amend the Constitution to defend heterosexual marriage will fail. If it succeeds, it will follow Prohibition in being repealed. It cannot be otherwise.
No one quarrels about contraception anymore. The people who used to do so are mostly dead. Likewise, the only generation that quarrels about the gay issue will be dead in another thirty to sixty years. The next generation will care even less than this one about that topic. The next fight will be over pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, sado-masochism and the rest. And Christianity will lose those fights too. Pleasure is the measure. The war was over when we surrendered the Comstock laws. And that surrender could not have happened if Christians had not acquiesced.
A commentor on Mr. Kellmeyer’s blog also felt he ended on too gloomy a note, but Mr. Kellmeyer had a reply worth reproducing here:
Well, [commentor], what can I say? When Simeon prophecied to Mary, he didn’t exactly end on a high note either.
Your point about an increase in orthodoxy is well-taken, and that is precisely why I end the way I do. We could chastise Simeon, “What’s with all the sword and piercing talk? The Saviour is here! Life will only get better now!”
Except we had to watch the crucifixion first.
The more orthodoxy becomes prevalent, that is, the more little Christs we have walking around, the more crucifixions we are going to see. That’s what makes them little Christs, after all. I can predict that this culture will finish its descent this way precisely because I think we ARE getting more orthodoxy. The battle lines will become stark, even more stark than they already are. Our children will have to fight these battles. Pretending they won’t is whistling in the dark, and it doesn’t serve them or us or God.
Point well taken. Carry on.]