Friday, May 7, 2010

Danger, AFP

I think that Dr. Janet Smith is on my list of "people I'd prefer never to anger." Luckily, that's not likely to happen.

Unfortunately for Agence France Presse (AFP), they did manage to annoy Dr. Smith. Why does her response have me thinking (in a good way, of course) "Danger, Will Robinson?" (and yes, I know they never actually used that line on the show) CNA reports:

(CNA/EWTN News).- Responding to a recent Agence France Presse (AFP) article that criticized Catholic teaching on contraception, well-known professor, Dr. Janet Smith, said that in her opinion, the poorly researched piece “was inaccurate and slanted from the beginning.”

In light of the recent 50th anniversary of the Pill being released to U.S. markets, the AFP reported on Thursday that in spite of Church teaching, the majority of Catholic women today use contraception. [...]

During a phone interview with CNA on Thursday, Dr. Smith, a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said that it was obvious the writer of the AFP article did “minimal research.”

Not only did the writer mention the “rhythm method,” a term that Smith said “no one is using,” but the commission surrounding Pope Paul VI was “simply an advisory panel.” The Pope, said Smith, did not “ignore” anyone by opposing contraception, but rather, upheld the tenets of the faith on the belief that birth control would have devastating societal consequences.

The AFP article, she summarized, “was inaccurate and slanted from beginning to end.”

Defending the Church's teaching that contraception affects society in negative ways and is immoral, Smith noted that “more than one out of three babies in the United States are born to a single mother, one out of four pregnancies are aborted,” and that “more than one out of two marriages end in divorce.”

“If people were living by the Church's teaching on sexuality, those things wouldn't be happening, and those things are a path to misery,” she underscored.

“People born out of wedlock have a very hard life, as do their children. People who get divorced have a very hard life as do their children, and their friends and their family,” Smith asserted, adding that on the other hand, “people who don't get divorced and stay married and raise their children, generally have very good lives.”

“Couples who use natural family planning almost never divorce,” she pointed out. “The divorce rate at tops, we think is around 4%.”

In light of these facts,“who looks foolish?” she asked. “The Church for not changing a teaching that almost guarantees happiness or a culture that is pushing an agenda that almost guarantees misery?”

I don't know about you, but I think the AFP looks pretty foolish. Rhythm method, indeed!

But it is true, sadly, that far too many Catholics, even practicing ones, use artificial contraception. The Church here in America needs to do a much better job of teaching the life-affirming truth that fertility is not a disease, that natural methods of birth regulation are not only moral but can in some cases be a source of blessing, that children are God's greatest gifts, not burdens, and that artificial contraception is a tragically wrong path for a marriage to take.

The much lower divorce rate for couples who do not use artificial contraception should be enough to give anybody pause--except that our culture no longer thinks of divorce and serial remarriage as anything but a lifestyle choice, with the children whose lives are torn apart by divorce as acceptable collateral damage in the adults' battle for happiness.

Catholics are called to see both marriage and God's gift of children differently than the secular world, though. We're supposed to be a sign of contradiction in this regard. And Dr. Smith is right to point out the huge benefits for married couples of embracing the Church's teachings on sexual morality.


Barbara C. said...

This again is another issue that comes down to bad catechesis. I know that when I was in Catholic school we were never told anything more than what we heard in mainstream culture--the Church doesn't allow the use of birth control. Health classes were "you should wait until marriage but in case you don't..." (insert eye roll).

The main reasons that many Catholics continue to use artificial birth control is ignorance of what the Church's teachings on sexuality are and why. Everything I've learned about it I learned on my own.

Jeannette said...

To those who scoff at Humanae Vitae without ever having read it (big % there), I suggest they start with section 17; I note that it's amazing how prescient Paul VI was, 42 years ago, because in the first paragraph of section 17, he predicted modern Western society. In the second paragraph, he predicted modern China.
And then I point out that there are two types of contraceptives: the stuff that doesn't work, and the stuff that's bad for you. (OB-GYN's get tetchity when you tell them things, and you both know it should have come from him...)
And then I talk the girly-man fish, and how it's really bad for the environment (I've only seen the one study, with 75% female trout, 10% male. Not a great ratio, but I'm more disturbed that males are outnumbered by "other")

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There are some valid arguments about risks to use of contraceptives, but the good doctor isn't making much sense. Use of contraception does not result in children born out of wedlock, for instance. Failure of contraceptives may result in a birth out of wedlock, and arguably the woman concerned might not have run that risk in the first place if there were no contraceptives... but just as sex was not invented in Berkeley in 1964, birth out of wedlock is as old as human history and pre-history.

It also strikes me as odd to say that the Vatican "upheld the tenets of the faith on the belief that birth control would have devastating societal consequences." I thought that Pope Paul VI, in particular, concluded that use of birth control was simply contrary to church teachings on human life and family, no matter what the statistics on societal consequences? Isn't that why the encyclical was called Humanae Vitae? I don't agree, but then, that's why I'm not Catholic. As a Catholic argument, it has more integrity than the doctor talking about social consequences.

Jeannette said...

It doesn't appear that you've read Humanae Vitae. Might I suggest that you start with section 17? Paul VI recognized that if the normal physical consequence of sex were removed, there would be an increase in premarital and extramarital sex and a subsequent increase in out-of-wedlock births, divorce, and a decrease in respect for women. Amazing that he predicted our current society in 1968. God doesn't come up with arbitrary laws; He warns against sin because it's those things that take away from our happiness (which beats pleasure hands down!) I do think my husband has greater respect for me since we started following Church teaching on this.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I will agree that God doesn't come up with arbitrary laws. I'm fascinated that Deuteronomy contains one of the earliest instructions for digging latrines, and I have speculated on whether this gave Hebrew armies an advantage over their adversaries at crucial times. Sudden plagues, and such. I also agree that sex is best handled in the context of marriage, where it is one bond in a union which means as much in the many functions of the day as in the night, so to speak. I was lucky enough to come to maturity in 1972 and escape most of the perils of "free love," which of course is never free. I also don't question that Paul VI in a lengthy document gave many reasons for his encyclical.

However, there is a huge difference between saying "There are serious hazards to this, exercise with caution," and saying "This is forbidden because God would not have it so." Are we being pragmatic, or are we being obedient for the sake of obedience?

Needless to say, I believe contraception has a legitimate place in marriage and family, and given that there is experimentation outside of marriage, always has been, it may be better that contraception is available than that it be denied. It is certainly not a matter to send people to prison over. I realize this robs tender young women of a viable argument against yielding to peer pressure: to the caution "I don't want to get pregnant" there is now the rejoinder "You can take a pill, no problem." Actually, the mere fact that it is not 100% reliable is a sound basis to say, no, not until I'm married.

I was born just about three years after my parents married. My mother never had an unplanned child.

Lauretta said...

First, I would like to ask you a simple question--aren't some of our most special gifts those which aren't "planned"? And that is what children are--gifts from God. If we would look at them in that light rather than responsibilities or burdens or whatever, it would make their appearance, planned or unplanned, much more joyful.

Contraception is similar to bulemia--we want to engage in the activity without accepting the consequences. However, just as bulemia has unexpected consequences for the individual, so does contraception. Contraception can have serious health consequences for the woman. Just as we oppose hormones in our milk from the store we should be concerned about the hormones we are ingesting with birth control.

Contraception often makes the woman the slave of the man. She is usually forced to submit to the man's desires no matter what her state may be. And man's desires can be quite insatiable if he has not learned temperance or mastery of self. Women often begin to feel used and for good reason. They are. Her physical and emotional well-being are usually not taken into account when contraception is used.

Also, if one feels in control of their fertility from the use of contraception and that contraception fails, one often feels the need to control the result which leads to abortion. Looking at statistics, one can see this happening in each culture as contraception is implemented. Abortion soon follows.

If we feel that we are in control of both of these areas, soon we feel that we need to be in control of the rest of our lives including our own deaths. Meaning things such as suicide to avoid natural death and all that may mean.

But the bottom line is that contraception is saying that the way God created us is bad--that fertility is bad. We need to "fix" the way in which we were created. There is much more such as being a gift of self to another, etc. but I believe the above are the most obvious reasons why contraception is bad.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Once again, we agree in part. Spontaneity definitely has an important place in life. Everything can't be planned, and shouldn't have to be. I love children, but I can't agree that EVERY pregnancy is a gift from God. To those women who feel it is, you have a right to make that choice, and live your life accordingly. You may be right for all I know.

Conception and pregnancy are a biological process. The biological mechanism is no different for humans than for any other mammals. I doubt whether every kitten, puppy, calf, foal, foxling, etc. is a gift from God. It is something that happens. Somewhere between the simple biology and the birth of a live human baby to a mother who is looking forward with joy to this special experience, something much more than mere biology enters in. But is EVERY woman who dreads her pregnancy, wishes it would go away, really receiving a "gift from God" in disguise. Some may -- some who did found it to be so. Some became brutally abusive mothers who made their child's life a living hell.

I once saw a bumper sticker which read "How can there be too many children? That's like saying there are too many flowers!" I thought to myself, very bad analogy. How do we treat flowers? We dig up and destroy the ones we don't like (weeds). We plant more than we need, then ruthlessly thin them out. When they are no longer pretty, we dig them up, planting something more seasonal in their place... We DON'T do that with children. (We may disagree about abortion, but at some point, it IS a child, and we DON'T throw it away when it fades a little, or doesn't look so pretty any more, or...)

Stopping contraception doesn't guarantee a child. It simply opens up the possibility of spontaneous development. Your concerns about men making demands are well-founded, and as I've said before, "You can take a pill" is a sort of answer to "I don't want to get pregnant." But we need to move beyond that. If its not fulfilling for her, he has no business demanding anything. If there isn't the mutual commitment reflected in marriage, the possibilities of real fulfillment are greatly diminished -- because then, its just biology.