Monday, May 22, 2006


I have come to suspect that the so-called "Cultural Conservatives", in their war upon reproductive autonomy, will not rest content with the overturn of Roe and the subsequent radical restriction of abortion rights. They'll go after birth control next. Of course the Catholic Church remained a staunch enemy of birth control even when Protestants dropped their objections to it. But the tide on birth control has begun to turn. Conservative Protestants have begun to speak out against it.

Here are the words of a conservative Protestant of some influence:

"This epidemic of chosen childlessness will not be corrected by secular rethinking. In an effort to separate the pleasure of sex from the power of procreation, modern Americans think that sex totally free from constraint or conception is their right.

Those who reject children want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood. They rely on others to produce and sustain the generations to come.

The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children. This reminds us of our responsibility to raise boys to be husbands and fathers and girls to be wives and mothers. God's glory is seen in this, for the family is a critical arena where the glory of God is either displayed or denied. It is just as simple as that."

So says Albery Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His argument of course savors of Catholicism in a certain respect, but is anti-Catholic in another. It says that copulation should not be uncoupled from procreation. Thus Mohler seems to call upon us to eschew the use of birth control. But he calls upon us to do not only that. We must marry, he says. A life outside of marriage, even if celibate, is outside God's plan. This is an attack upon the priesthood, and indeed upon all within the Church who feel a call to remain celibate.

Let us be clear. For Mohler, we must marry and we must procreate. Indeed it seems that if we follow Mohler's advice families will be large. We cannot use birth control, for when we do we attempt to "separate the pleasure of sex from the power of procreation". (Mohler does not explicitly say that we cannot use birth control. But what he says entails it, and he should take responsibility not only for what he says but also for what is entailed thereby.) But I suspect that Mohler would claim that a wife should not withhold sex from her husband nor a husband sex from his wife. For is not marriage in part for sex? It is, in God's plan (or so I expect Mohler would say), the only proper place for sex, and sex between husband and wife is a natural and inevitable outgrowth of that love. Thus if both parents are fertile, the wife will bear many children.

The battle lines are drawn. I know on which side I stand.

Mohler's mistakes are many in number and kind.

1. I quick read of 1 Corinthians 7 seems to give council contrary to what Mohler says. Paul there praises those who choose to remain unmarried and instead devote their time to God. It is as if Mohler would have us forget what Paul there says.

2. There are many ways to bring good into the world, and procreation is but one of them. Who can say for sure that the way for me to bring the most good into the world is for me to marry and have children? Might I not do better to choose another path? (Paul seems quite clearly to answer Yes in 1 Corinthians 7.)

3. It is good to bring children into the world so that there might be more who can know and love God. Procreation is thus not an end in itself. It serves the end of increase in knowledge and love of God. But since it is not an end in itself, it's quite possible that some should be called to serve the end which it promotes in another way. For example, perhaps it would be better for an artist of world-historical ability to devote herself to her work to the exclusion of all else. It might be that only thus can she produce a body of work able to uplift the spirit in illumine the intellect. Let me put the point in this way. The mind is not for the body and the body's creation of new members of its species. Rather the body is for the mind, and we procreate so that there will be more minds. So what we serve is not the body and the body's function but the mind and its function, and clearly there might be better ways to serve the mind and its function than to procreate. We are not merely animal. We are rational too. Let us not debase ourselves so that we behave as do non-rational animals. Rather let us serve our rationality. Let us make certain that it flourishes in whatever way seems best to us. To do this, some will make more like themselves. Others will devote themselves solely to meditation, to research, to art, to governance and so on. In the end, they serve the same end as do those who procreate but they do so in another way.

4. A woman who must copulate often with her husband and who can never use birth control is a woman who will bear many children. She will undergo many total years of pregnancy and many years with very young children in the house. Such a woman will have no time to pursue other interests. She will be bound to home and to children for decades. Whatever talent she might have had for work outside the home will be squandered. This cannot be good.

5. A time will come when not all couples can have many children. Perhaps the planet can easily support 10 billion, or 50. I do not know. But at a certain point, its ability to support us will fail. Before that time, we must begin to curtail population growth. We must begin to use birth control. Indeed I would suppose that it's better to use birth control now so that we never come near the point at which the Earth's ability to support us fails.

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