What Happens When Truth is Rejected

This is Part V of a series; find Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

So many have looked to and continue to look to the Catholic Church as a reliable source of religious and moral truth on account of the truth of Humanae Vitae. It is a remarkable truth at the heart of both the “culture of life” and the New Evangelization. To name but one individual attracted to the Church because of HV, the late British writer Malcolm Muggeridge spoke movingly about the encyclical already before his conversion to the Faith. It was, he says in his Confessions of a 20th Century Pilgrim (1988), the Catholic Church’s firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally convinced him to convert.

If he, Muggeridge, were to find himself pope, he wrote in National Review ten years after HV, his “first venture…would be to reissue Humanae Vitae…reinforcing its essential point that any form of artificial contraception is inimical to the Christian life…The divorcement of eroticism from its purpose, which is procreation, and its condition, which is lasting love, consequent upon the practice of artificial contraception, was proving increasingly disastrous to marriage and family.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe explosion of pornography and pre-marital sex, not to mention venereal diseases such as HIV/AIDS and HPV, are but a few of the social pathologies that have followed the past half century now that we so casually uncouple sex from marriage and procreation from lasting love (cf. HV, 22). But then again, Bl. Paul VI warned us of such bitter fruits – confirmed by abundant social science data – even if he realized, as a good pastor, how very difficult the practice of chastity and the observance of the moral norms of marriage would be for many (see, e.g., HV, 20; cf. 1-3).

You see, the norm of the inseparability of the “unitive” and the “procreative” ends acts as a safeguard of conjugal love and the family; without it, all forms of unnatural and perverted sex seem morally acceptable, as the late eminent British Catholic philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe cogently argued over forty years ago.

Today’s culture, at least many of the “Baby Boomers” among us, often looks back nostalgically, if not fondly at the 1960s culture of sexual freedom and its admirable idealism in thinking that such absurdly kooky ideas as Flower Power, LSD, and the “Make Love Not War” slogan could change the world for the better.  But HV proposed quite a different way to create what it called an authentically “human civilization.” If only more of us celebrated its lasting legacy rather than the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” message of Woodstock Festival (1969) – the epitome and in some ways the culmination of the 1960’s Hippie Generation or Youth Culture – I believe our nation would be in much better shape today.

“In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage,” Bl. Paul VI memorably announced, “the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization” (HV, 18).  Showing respect for the laws of conception in the context of married love, couples humbly acknowledge that they are “not the master of the sources of life but rather the ministers of the design established by the Creator” (HV, 13).

Imagine that! Spouses are the priests of God’s intelligent love and his creative power to give life – co-creators of new human life with the Lord God himself!

In a world that seems to have gone crazy, HV is, therefore, ultimately a message of sexual sanity: the sanity of life over death, of love over lust, and hope over despair. It is, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in a May 2008 Address to mark HV’s 40th anniversary, “a gesture of courage.”

With the benefit of almost five decades worth of “hard knocks” experience and social science support behind us, we see the terrible things that happen to human persons and society, like falling dominoes – increases in family breakdown, out-of-wedlock births, and abortion among them – when a culture rejects (or forgets!) the moral norm that couples are not to do anything before, during, or subsequent to sexual intercourse that would impede the transmission of new human life – whether as an end or as a means (see HV, 14).

But it all makes perfect sense really. For contraception, more than preventing “unwanted” children from coming-to-be, leads us to view children as unwanted. This selfish attitude is part and parcel of what is meant by the “contraceptive mentality” (cf. Evangelium Vitae, 13).

In fact, it can be argued, contraception is a “gateway” to abortion and abortion, in turn, is a “gateway” to child abuse. Easy access to contraception and abortion did not take away this and other problems, as it was claimed would happen over four and a half decades ago – it made them worse. In retrospect, it is clear how compassionate HV really was to warn the human family about them. If only we had listened to its then 70-year-old author!

Spawned by such modern cultural landmarks as Playboy, the Pill, and bad U.S. Supreme Court decisions (e.g. Griswald vs. Connecticut, 1965), the “Sexual Revolution” gave us sex as a care-free pleasure to be slurped, not savored and sanctified in the bond of marriage. And our sex-obsessed culture has slurped to the point of satiation – even to the point of believing it needs abortion as a form of “back-up” birth control. But thankfully, there is some evidence that the tide seems to be turning away from the path of “Sexual Suicide” (George Gilder), especially among young people. Many couples, for example, are now discovering the joys of NFP.
Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D. is a Professor of Moral Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary (Detroit, MI), where he has taught for over 23 years. He is co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), as well as author of What’s a Person to Do? Everyday Decisions that Matter (Our Sunday Visitor, 2013) and numerous articles in scholarly and popular journals.

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  • KarenJo12

    I suggest you read the report by the commission Paul appointed. I also suggest you look up the origin of the surname “Esposito.” Children were unwanted before 1968 — a lot of them. Women weren’t respected for anything at all before feminism. Birth control is essential for women to live as fully functioning adults. You and the Catholic Church prefer women to remain as helpless and stupid dependents on men, who can then be certain that however miserable their lives are at least half the human race is objectively worse. And please don’t insult me by mentioning saints or Mary as evidence that the church likes women. You like myths, not actual people.

    • Mark Latkovic

      Don’t forget that besides the “myths” I supposedly like, the “actual people” that I like (and love) include my wife and two daughters…The last time I checked, they are women (I didn’t mention Mary or the saints!) … I have read the PBC Commission’s “Majority Report” too many times to count. That Commission was appointed by St. John XXIII and then expanded by Bl. Paul VI. To read it today is to be embarrassed by its shoddy moral reasoning. There you will find the origins of the moral theory known as “proportionalism” — a theory whose normative proposal is: do that act which promises to bring about the greatest amount of (pre)moral good over (pre)moral evil. In this theory, there are no moral absolutes/intrinsically evil acts … Of course children were unwanted before 1968 (the point being?). Contraception (not birth control) made that worse … “Women weren’t respected for anything…before feminism.” Really? Utter nonsense, I must say. My mother, another “actual” person, would beg to differ; as would countless other women born before 1960 … You don’t want to be insulted, but you throw insults out with abandon! P.S. The true “myth” is the idea that women need contraception “to live as fully functioning adults.” I find that idea offensive and belittling of women. And so do many other women…

    • editor

      Essential? I’m an actual person – a woman – and don’t find it essential. I have two children, have a satisfying and growing career and have never considered using birth control. I think sweeping generalizations are not helpful on either side of a debate. I should perhaps add that I’ve worked for the Catholic Church my entire adult career – a bishop hired me as the head of an office at a young age, I’ve been listened to and appreciated for who I am and my abilities and my husband is a Catholic who splits both parenting and work responsiblities with me. Our situation is similar to my grandparents (before the 60s) where my grandparents both worked and cared for their children. Many of my friends similarily don’t rely on birth control and are very much ‘modern women’ who are self-reliant and successful as well as loved moms and wives.

  • MissJean

    “Women weren’t respected for anything at all before feminism.” There’s a myth right there.

    Women were respected before feminism. Catholic women ran for office. Catholic women started businesses. Catholic women earned degrees in so-called masculine fields.

    Your myth reminds me of a college classmate who declared that “in the 1950s, women couldn’t really go to college except to look for husbands.” Except that my mother graduated from a Dominican-run Catholic college in the ’50s with a degree in mathematics. She and several other female classmates were scholarship students from poor families. They were also serious students, the “MRS degree” being a joke.

    The big difference between them and the co-eds of the ’60s was they weren’t hooking up with male classmates or pulling stunts as political statements. I remember asking my mother about feminists at the University of Michigan having a bra-burning ( the anniversary came up while I attended). She didn’t go because she was studying for upcoming tests for her math master’s classes. So who were the real feminists: the girls burning underwear at the secular institution or the Catholic girls studying math and science?

    • Mark Latkovic

      Very thoughtful post, Miss Jean! Thank you.

    • James

      This trend continues today.