But why is today's "compromise" not a solution? Because, although it allows religiously affiliated institutions the privilege of not having to pay for the contraceptive services that are morally repugnant to them, it then puts the burden on insurance companies to provide them free of charge to women who ask for them. From one perspective, why not? some say. Contraception is far cheaper than the cost of labor and delivery, so the insurance companies should be happy to pony up. Yet on the other hand, there's no such thing as a free lunch or a free Pill. The insurance companies will obtain the money for this. And they will do it by raising the cost of premiums for other services.
In effect, all this talk of "compromise" (or worse, "conceding") is only a code for "accounting trick." The people behind this move know that it will be much harder to hold this accounting maneuver up as a clear example of government intrusion into religion and the free practice thereof by private citizens. They also know that it will be easier to convince Catholics of President Obama's essential benevolence, and induce them to vote for him again this year (would they have bothered if this were already his second term?).
A writer for the New York Times, Ross Douthat, has written about the media's "abortion blinders." He's right, of course. It's been this way as long as I can recall. Moreover, relevant Tweets in the past few days from mainstream news sources have been incredulous that anything still exists to question the contraceptive mentality that they claim "practically all American women have accepted." They cite 98% of Catholics as not adhering to their faith's tenets on contraception. They insinuate, of course, that if all those Catholics can get along with contraception, there should be no reason the confounded, stubborn old Church cannot get in line, too. Personally, I question their numbers. I believe a lot more than 2% of Catholics abide by the teaching of the Church in this matter. But that is not the point. 0% of Catholics might abide by it, but that would not make it a false teaching, only an unpopular one.
As a brief aside, I think that people who are gung-ho for contraceptive pills and potions ought to reconsider their enthusiasm based on one scientific reason. The chemicals. The chemicals and hormones contained in contraception do not simply disappear, poof, into a woman's body when absorbed (which is horrible enough, given the problems many women have trying to conceive after being on the Pill for many years). No, they do not disappear. Through the great biological processes, they enter our environment and particularly our water supply. Studies have shown there are high levels of estrogen (and chemicals from other drugs) in our water, which you can bet is affecting everything that needs water for life.
What it comes down to is responsibility and self-control. You can choose abstinence, with all its attendant hardships for you personally. Or, you can choose to pass the buck to a contraceptive drug, which will take those burdens away from you (mostly....), while, with Mephistophelian malice, it will wreak its chemical havoc further down the line–on your environment, your loved ones, your world.
For many years now, stylish, modern people have loved to dismiss large families, sneering, "aren't they selfish for taking up so many resources!" In all seriousness, I would say the same adjective applies to the women (and men) responsible for flushing chemicals from contraception into the water supply every day. It's selfish.
Meanwhile, this latest development in the mutual positioning of the Catholic Church and the U.S. government is ground for sobering thought.
Being raised Catholic, stories of martyrs are never far away. There are the earliest martyrs, like St. Agnes and St. Cecilia and St. Tarcisius. There are the martyrs of bloody regime changes like Queen Elizabeth's and the French Revolution.* Then there are the martyrs of African nations and Asian ones, including Japan, Korea, China, and Vietnam. More recently there were martyrs like St. Maximilian Kolbe in Auschwitz, and more recently still are the Christians who are killed for their faith today in lands that are dominated by a horrendous lack of regard for the dignity of human life.
*Of course, Catholics would be better served if their history books also recorded the martyrdom of non-Catholics at the hands of Catholics. The British have not forgotten Mary Tudor. The world has not forgotten the Inquisition, although it has been distorted like a Dan Brown novel in the popular imagination. Catholics have carried out many evils against their fellow human beings. But this is outrageous precisely because Catholics are not supposed to be evil, but are called to holiness. It does not invalidate the identity and call of the Church.
All of that is to give a background for the projection (I will not call it a prediction) I am going to make. Do you remember reading Aldous Huxley's Brave New World in high school? In the novel, the vast majority of humanity lives in the World State, giving their lives over to pleasure and conformity to the government and its social ethics. Yet there are certain reservations on which tiny bands of other people live primitive but (presumably) self-governed lives–we learn this when the book's first protagonist visits one as a tourist.
Well, I would not be surprised if something like that is in store for Catholics.* There is an ever greater divide between what society at large is willing to normalize and what the Catholic Church regards as good. If the divide progresses much further, I do not see how the two can live under the same system, when the system seems hell-bent on beating the Church into conformity.
Brave New World was published in the 1930s. In 1985, Neil Postman offered a comparison of the book with another great dystopian novel, 1984. I think it's pretty obvious that the U.S., at least, is much closer to Huxley's vision than any of us would like to admit.
"What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us."
*I might have been less dramatic and said I think that Catholics will be reduced to living in rural communities like the Amish, if reduced is the right verb, but the selfishness, over-stimulation, and over-informationalization of our time in conjunction with the dizzying ignorance of many people about so many topics, including religion in general, is what suggested Brave New World to me.
Am I a conspiratorial nutcase? No. I don't think this will happen anytime soon. Though I am willing to bet most Americans don't know about the civilian prison camps that are prepped and ready for inmates throughout the Union. Hey, if Jesse Ventura says so, it's gotta be true! But it isn't as if the government doesn't have the capability to shunt people around. It did when Native Americans were on the land that it wanted and when Japanese Americans were considered just too dangerous. All it needs is a few good reasons for people to believe any particular group is "undesirable." (One more reason to support the kind of return to limited government and states' rights that is championed by Ron Paul.)
One more note. The most disgusting comment I've read about the U.S. bishops' effort to fight the intolerable HHS mandate is that it is 'an attempt by the Catholic Church to regain the moral high ground after the priest scandals.' There are so many things wrong with that interpretation, and I have so little time left to address them. But the first thing to point out is that the author obviously believes the anti-contraception stance is on "the moral high ground." Secondly, to the extent that priests, religious, and lay people have committed abuse and covered up that abuse, they have contributed to ruining the lives of many people. They have sinned, and it is just that their sins have been made public. But to say that this is a politically motivated move is the sure mark of someone who does not understand Catholicism at all. Rather, it is the remark of one of the ever-growing crowd that is incredulous that Catholicism is still around. A good bout of scandal should have wiped it off the face of the earth, according to them. What they fail to see is that the Church remains because it is a hospital for sinners, not a palace for saints, and ultimately it is not about individuals, whether they are plumbers, priests, or Popes. It is about Jesus.