Sunday, March 18, 2012

Why Catholics Are To Blame For The Birth Control Mandate

Ever since the department of Health and Human Services handed down its policy stating that all insurers (save for a few exceptions) must provide artificial birth control, many have decried it as an attack on religious freedom. Evangelicals and small government conservatives have joined Catholics in denouncing what they deem to be, not only a misguided approach to health care, but an assault on their conscience. But if Catholics want someone to blame, they need only look in the mirror.

The way birth control is talked about today, one might get the impression that the morality of it has never been in question. All the same, there was a time when even the feminists recognized it as a tool of male oppression rather than a vista for feminine freedom. However, at the turn of last century there was a slow, but noticeable shift, and activists like Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) took full advantage of it. Up until this time, the only situations in which birth control was even tacitly promoted was with respect to prostitution and poverty. Sanger agreed with this application, but she wanted to take it a step further. Not only did she see it as a remedy for the undesirables, but for all women who sought to liberate themselves from the "burden of fertility." In 1931, she received help from an unexpected source. During the Lambeth Conference, which meets every decade to discuss Church policy and doctrine in the Anglican church, there was a debate concerning birth control. The conference determined that, in spite of previous declarations to the contrary, birth control was morally permissible, and furthermore, married couples could avail themselves of the benefits if there was indeed a grave need for it. Some will point out that the conclusions of such Anglican "conferences" are non-binding in the Anglican Church (which makes me wonder why they meet in the first place). Even so, one can hardly dismiss the effect this must have had on the laity. Prior to this, no other Christian denomination had ever collectively made such a statement. However, that would soon change, and within a short period of time the rest of the mainline churches adopted similar policies.

By the early 1960s no church, save the Catholic Church, opposed the use of artificial birth control. Consequently, when "the pill" (notice that it is called "the pill", not a pill) was finally made available on the market it was viewed as a kind of catch-all cure for all of societies woes. Naively, even those with a decidedly more religious world-view believed that it could be used with the necessary restraint. What they didn't take into account were those people who would regard it as a means to jettison any responsibility for their sexual behavior. Some may regard these events as purely coincidental, but it is difficult to imagine how anyone could deny that the sexual revolution became possible only when the pill became available.

In the meantime, Catholics themselves were equally infected by this cultural shift. As a matter of fact, even priests, according to many accounts, were telling married couples that the church was soon to change her teaching. The Church hesitated, and in that moment of hesitation nobody waited (nor wanted to wait) for the final verdict. Consequently, by the time Pope Paul VI came out with the encyclical Humanae Vitae (a document which reaffirmed Church teaching on Birth Control), the proverbial horse was out of the barn. The Lambeth conference served as a foot in the door, and the advent of the pill- coupled with the "deer in the head lights" approach of the Church- ultimately served to open wide that very same barn door.

But Catholics are responsible for Catholics, just as each person is responsible for their own actions. And the truth is if Catholics (both clergy and lay people) had not simply followed the rest of society like a bunch of mindless lemmings, Obama would never have had the support to pull off such a heavy handed measure. Like a brilliant warrior (or at least a lucky one) he attacked religious liberty in the place where it was most vulnerable, and because many Catholics are so fundamentally indifferent to the Church's moral positions, he was able to sneak it by those drowsy guardians of the Faith. So why cannot the Church succumb on this particular issue and simply focus on the rest? Because the Church's teachings are so inextricably tied to the institutions she produces (and to one another), that you cannot take away one indispensable thread without the rest of it unraveling.

Indeed, it is more than a little ironic that the one Catholic teaching that everyone presumed was obsolete and irrelevant has become the deadly weapon utilized in an effort to attack the first amendment to the constitution. Yes, the one teaching that most Catholics assumed was inessential to their Faith has become the fundamental linchpin for this demolition project. So as Catholics and Catholic institutions face some difficult decisions in the coming years, we can only blame ourselves that the very institutions that bespeak freedom, dignity, and equality, have lost their freedom of choice in the name of "freedom of choice". We can only lament the tragic demise of the conscience clause in the Constitution because Catholics were too embarrassed to endure the shame and ridicule that would have accompanied a robust defense of it. Yet if this mandate is not reversed, it is not just Catholics that will pay, but everyone, liberal and conservative, protestant and atheist alike; no one will be exempt; "for the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone."            


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