Friday, February 10, 2012

red flame breaks the spell of grey

Today, President Obama made a statement of "compromise" in response to outrage from the Catholic Church (and those similarly minded with regard to sexual ethics) over the HHS mandate for all employers to cover sterilization, contraception, and abortifacient drugs beginning in August of this year. While houses of worship are not required to comply, religiously affiliated schools, hospitals, charities, and other institutions are affected. This is a case of the government forcing private citizens (employers) to violate their consciences or to pay the penalty. When Catholics protested this matter some weeks ago, they were told by Kathleen Sebelius that they would be given an extension of sorts–one year to comply, or in other words, "a year to figure out how to violate our consciences." (Abp. Timothy Dolan) If you are a Catholic or read Catholic blogs, all of this is old news by now.

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."


Kevin Grimstad said...

Thanks for writing this eloquent article. You would think even people who like contraception would defend the Catholic Church's stance just out of reverence towards the 1st Amendment.

Alas, the Church of Soma (so to speak) lives on. And it seems the majority of people care more about pleasure and avoiding "unwanted babies" (a horrid concept and term) than the 1st Amendment or good sense.

Keep up the good blog.

Guillaume said...

Thoughtful post! Don't forget about natural family planning, though, which respects the dignity of persons and is A-OK with Church teachings. Helpful websites:

jasmine tea said...

Thanks, Kevin! We need to make choices between what's pleasurable and what's right in so many areas of life. It's saddening, but not surprising, that many people would choose the path of restricted freedom just because they dislike the Church. You know it's being spun as "the Church trying to force its morality on the rest of the country by limiting access to 'preventive care.'" Iyiyi.

Guillaume, welcome! Thank you for your thoughtful comment and the links for NFP. I didn't mention it when I was writing about the two basic choices (abstinence or contraception) because in my mind it falls under the abstinence umbrella, as far as the ultimate mechanism for not getting pregnant– although of course, it's more sophisticated than that since husbands and wives need to get to know and respect the fertility cycle, etc.