Saturday, June 13, 2009

What is the Contraceptive Mentality?

All Christians opposed birth control as contrary to the natural law and the will of God prior to 1930. Since then a tidal wave of sexual permissiveness, marital breakdown, family disintegration and normalization of perversions has swept over the Western world. The West is now busily exporting the sexual revolution around the world through the proliferation of Western pop culture that embodies the contraceptive mentality.

What is the contraceptive mentality? When I talk to other Protestants about the issue of birth control, I find the discussion is hijacked immediately by reference to the Roman Catholic position against all contraception, which is seen as "extreme" and "unreasonable." People seem to take for granted the assumption that there can only be two positions: the Catholic one and what everyone else believes. My goal here is to shatter this binary into at least three separate postions, if not more.

Protestants have bought into the contraceptive mentality in a hugely uncritical manner, not realizing that they have internalized some of the worst features of modern, Western society such as hedonism, materialism and the dream of technological mastery of nature (including human nature) in the process. So let us assume for the purpose of this discussion that some forms of contaception might be licit for married couples only for the purposes of spacing out children but not for avoiding children altogether. Let us assume that the "no contraception ever" rule has some exceptions. How can we be sure that we are still approaching this moral issue Christianly and not simply being brainwashed by modernity? What is the contraceptive mentality?

1. First, we should say that the contraceptive mentality is a naturalistic reduction of the process of human reproduction to a strictly human endeavour from which God is absent. It turns procreation into a project of human will alone. This means that the conception and birth of the child becomes a project of the parents, which they seek to control and the outcome of which is totally in their own hands. So if conception occurs at an inopportune time, the logical outcome of this way of thinking is abortion.

Since many Protestants understand that abortion is the taking of a human life, it is clear to them that there must be a flaw in this way of thinking. Procreation is a joint project of the parents and God and there is a sense in which we "take what we get." We are not ultimately in control of this process. All forms of contraceptives have effectiveness rates measured in percentages, so whenever sexual intercourse occurs there is always a chance that conception will occur anyway. We can't escape that fact unless we are ready to resort to abortion if necessary. The contraceptive mentality leads to the acceptance of abortion, so the rejection of abortion is the first step away from the contraceptive mentality.

2. The contraceptive mentality tends to separate sex from procreation in such a way as to reduce most sexual activity to a trivial form of pleasure-seeking. To marry and engage in sexual intercourse, any act of which could potentially result in the conception of a new human being, is a serious and personal act. It is serious in that it needs, by its very nature, to occur in the context of a committed relationship between adults who are ready and willing to take full responsibility for their actions (i.e. they are ready to raise children together). It is a personal act in that it signifies not that one is willing to hop into bed for an hour and share a pleasurable experience with a person, but that one is willing to join one's life to that person permanently and become one flesh with that person, not just physically but emotionally, spiritually and in terms of daily life.

When contraception is widely available outside of marriage, as well as within marriage, it trains us to regard sex as trivial instead of serious and as impersonal instead of personal. If sex is just about a hormonal release for an hour or so, there is no reason why it should take on such great importance. It literally doesn't mean anything; it is just like a dance with a stranger. Contracepted sex also makes the partners interchangeable. If the goal is just to recieve pleasurable sensations, what difference does it make whether the person I'm doing it with today is the same person as I did it with yesterday or the one I will do it with tomorrow? Contraception depersonalizes and trivializes sex. It makes it less like marriage and more like recreation.

3. The contraceptive mentality presents ordinary human beings with strong temptations to immorality that they find difficult to resist given normal sexual drives. Traditionally, the sexes were kept separated during adolescence for much of the time and couples were not allowed to be alone. Such precautions were necessary if people were to enter marriage as virgins, which is the ideal. Originally, when contraception was first accepted, it was only for certain situations in which married couples had serious health or other reasons for spacing children apart. But soon it was accepted more and more for married couples who did not wish to have children at all and then for unmarried people who wished to engage in sex without taking on the responsibilities of marriage. Of course, contraception has always been used by adulterers, which accounts for some of the moral dubiousness attributed to it by Christians prior to the last 5o years.

Logically, there is no reason why the legality or morality of contraceptives for married couples should lead to society making contraceptives widely available to unmarried people. One of the great mysteries of the post-1960's period is why the legal prohibitions on contraceptives were knocked down so quickly and easily and why the limiting of contraceptives to marriage disintegrated so quickly. Of course, the Roman Catholic answer is that nature teaches us that to interfere artificially with the nature of of act of sexual intercourse is unnatural and immoral and that, once that prohibition is breached, further decline is inevitable until we have schools handing out condoms to children and teens, which is where we are now.

Protestants need to give this issue serious thought. If we are going to accept the morality of contraception for married couples, we cannot accept the morality of contraception for unmarried couples. We must not even see contraception as the lesser of two evils for unmarried people and this is where the breach in the walls of traditional morality seems to occur most frequently. We gradually accept a naturalistic account of the human sex drive as too powerful for free moral agents to control and then gradually accept the argument that if they are going to have sex anyway at least it is better to prevent a pregnancy. Yet, if contraception trivializes and depersonalizes sex, as argued above, is it really the lesser of the two evils? I think we should teach teens that sex is to be reserved for marriage and then if they give in to temptation and a pregnancy occurs we should support them and deal with the consequences in a realistic manner. To practice contraception seems to do the opposite; it promotes pleasure without responsiblity, using persons as means to an end and the depersonalization, not only of sex, but of ourselves.

The contraceptive mentality encapsulates the spirit of modernity perfectly. It is individualistic, gnostic and the triumph of sheer will over submissiveness to nature and God. It trains us to ignore God, use other persons as means to our own ends and to separate the loving embrace of the lover from the fruitfulness built into that embrace by our Creator. It is hedonistic pleasure-seeking detatched from responsibility and commitment. It is to drive a wedge, one might say, between creation and covenant. Responsible Christians must reject the contraceptive mentality, it seems to me, even if debate over limited exceptions to the general rule must continue.


Mennonite_Pacifist said...

Have you been talking with A. James Reimer too much? Me-thinks your older stuff was closer to the mark.

Craig Carter said...

What "older stuff"? I haven't changed on these issues (i.e. sexuality) at all. And does Reimer also question the contraceptive mentality? I didn't know that, but it is encouraging to hear.

Anonymous said...

The contraception mentality is as old as the calendar -- cultures throughout history knew that women had monthly cycles of fertility and infertility.

From the "Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute" -- In the 1870’s, the New York Times estimated there were 200 full time abortionists in New York City and abortion safety was generally quite high ... During the 1800’s, newspaper ads were plentiful: “Portuguese Female Pills, not to be used during pregnancy for they will cause miscarriage.”

Coitus interruptus, withdrawal, was practiced in Africa, Australasia, the Middle East, and in Europe. Though condemned by Judaism and Roman Catholicism, its practice was common enough in Medieval Europe and later to be frequently attacked in canonical writings as a “vice against nature”. Studies in the 1920’s and 30’s in New York and New Jersey found that coitus interruptus was the most common pre-medical form of birth control. Further evidence of its practice comes from documentation of doctors’ remonstrances against it—arguing that it was dangerous, caused nervousness, ultimately impotence, and one who said it might lead to hardening of the uterus in women.

Craig Carter said...

Mr. Ananymous,
The use of the natural rhythm to determine fertile and infertile days is technically not contaception. It is a common mistake made because the assumption is that if two actions have the same goal they must be morally evaluated in the same way. It is rather like saying that murdering a rival politician is morally the same as winning an election over him because in both cases the goal of keeping him out of office is the same. Moral ends must be acheived in moral ways.

As for the mythical 200 abortionists in NYC, one is advised not to swallow uncritically all the pro-abort propoganda. According to them, the blood was also knee-deep in the streets. But even if there were 200 abortionists there then, there are certainly more than that now, which does not seem like progress.
Incidentally, there might well be 200 terrorists in sleeper cells in NYC. But I think we should keep anti-terror laws anyway.

As for coitus interruptus, if you think that is not against nature, I don't what to say to you!

Anonymous said...

1. The contraceptive mentality as you described it, is the separation of sex from reproduction. That's exactly what calendar-based birth control methods provide. Although not trapped in an artificial device, the sperm is still purposely wasted for the sake of selfish carnal pleasure.

2. There are archives of 19th century New York newspapers in the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library. That's where the 200 abortionist figure comes from - actual published advertisements, news articles, public notices, etc.

3. Coitus Interruptus is as natural as the act itself. More importantly, there is no possible way to legislate against it. And again, it's a world-wide practice used throughout time for the purpose of separating sex from reproduction.

Finally, by conflating contraception with abortion, you demean actual human life - the fetus - to the same level as the sperm and egg (the destruction of which will never, ever be legally equated with murder).

Andrew said...


Wouldn't the fact that the word "interrupt" is part of "coitus interruptus" suggest there is something incomplete, and so unnatural, about the act?

Anonymous said...

No, there's nothing unnatural about interruption. Humans across culture, geography, and time naturally discover it. Like calendar-based contraceptive practices, the goal is to have sex without becoming pregnant.

A common trait of all human civilizations is a balance between the number of children you physically can produce with the amount of resources available. Uncontrolled, unplanned pregnancy leads to insufferable poverty, disease, and ignorance which we see in places like the slums of Brazil and India. Eventually the pressure builds to a point of war (internal or external) or devasting epidemics (plague, cholera, etc.) wherein the population is considerably reduced. It's a natural, often repeated cycle.

In contrast, interpution is a much more humane natural act.

L.H. said...

I think the argument you present here makes sense. Not "natural" sense but "biblical" sense.

God's word speaks of children being a blessing. Being fruitful, having many children, and fertility were blessings given by God in the bible.

On the other hand, God cursed people by making them barren.

Today, we are on a quest to be barren. We see that as good and children as a curse.

Our how idea on human life is the opposite of God's and its almost kind of sick, really.