Forty years ago Pope Paul VI released a statement on contraception that, looking back, was stunningly prophetic.
The essay, entitled Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), was written at a time in American history when contraceptive pills were becoming very popular. Women across the country were celebrating their newfound freedom as the history of American sexuality turned a new page.
The Catholic Church, however, was singing a different tune. Unlike the many women who rejoiced over the changing cultural tides, the Pope raised a voice of concern–a concern that we can now see was completely warranted.
Although the Catholic Church’s position on contraception has been debated among Christians (Catholics put a heavy priority on the procreative purpose of sex,whereas many other Christians do not), there is one point on which the Pope was completely right.
If only we’d listened.
What follows is an excerpt from Humanae Vitae in which Pope Paul VI projects the cultural implications of contraception. His predictions could not have been more accurate, and I have posted this today because of the profound impact it has had for women since:
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Did you get that?
FORTY YEARS AGO, Pope Paul VI predicted the exact situation that we find ourselves in today. He warned that the practice of hormonal contraception would divorce the responsibility of sex from the act of sex. He also feared that, as a result of this divorce, men would no longer need to guard the sanctity of sex, thereby leading them to treat women and sex in a recklessly casual way.
And his fears came true.
Sex without consequences. That is what the contraceptive revolution bought our country. And what do you think happens when we cheapen the price of a costly good? We no longer value it quite so highly.
Pope Paul VI was exactly right.
So while the contraceptive pill seemed like a gateway to women’s freedom and a means for valuing the female life even more, it instead devalued women, giving men the freedom to use them for sexual gratification without weighing the implications of their actions.
Now I write all of this not as a diatribe against the practice of contraception, but to caution us about considering the ideological impacts of the decisions we make. Just because science develops a solution to making our lives easier or providing us with a convenient short-cut does not mean we should embrace it.
Whenever we seek to relieve ourselves of divinely placed forms of accountability and responsibility, we forget that God created those measures for our own protection. Sex is about more than just procreation, but the fact that sexual intercourse leads to the birth of a new human life should cause us to approach the act of sex soberly and reverently.
While the contraceptive pill can’t take all the blame for the objectification of women and the number of absent fathers in our nation, it certainly played its own part. In a consumer-driven culture that wants what it wants right now, we have taken a thousand tiny steps in the wrong direction, and those tiny steps add up to a society that has wandered horribly off the path of truth.
No, the contraceptive pill is not, in itself, an evil, but blank-check contraceptive practices do not coincide well with a Scriptural view on marriage, family and sex. It is time we start examining why. I hope you will ask yourself that question.