Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Stale Mated” first appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Touchstone.
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Brantly Millegan on Why Defending Life & Marriage Has Gone Badly
Just 27 percent of Americans supported so-called same-sex marriage in 1996, according to a Gallup poll taken in May of that year. The same poll taken in 2013 put support at 53 percent. Another Gallup poll taken in 1996 showed that 30 percent of Americans believed abortion should be illegal throughout pregnancy. The same poll taken in 2011 put support at 29 percent for that position. Gallup polls over the last four decades have similarly shown little change in opinion on abortion. While there have been pro-life successes over the years, there are certainly no signs of a decisive cultural victory in the near future, as there increasingly seem to be for the cause of homosexuality.
What explains the difference? Why have activists for homosexuality been so successful over such a short period of time, while pro-life activists have been unable to make significant progress?
The answer is complex, of course, and entails many factors, including the positions taken by those in the news media, entertainment industries, and academia; practical errors made by those in the pro-life and marriage movements; and even the influence of malevolent spiritual forces. But there is another factor, one that is seldom discussed, yet is essential to a full explanation of the difference: the ubiquitous acceptance and use of contraception.
Implications of the Contraceptive Mentality
The act by which spouses give of themselves to each other in total according to their sex—and that expresses and consummates their marital, one-flesh union—is the same act by which they can conceive a child. The use of contraception changes the act in that one of the spouses withholds an essential aspect of his sexuality, specific to his sex, from the other (for example, by using a condom, the man prevents himself from giving his seed to his wife; and by taking hormonal contraception, the woman withholds her natural fertility from her husband). Thus, contraception denies both the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act, and it does so by denying some sexual difference between the spouses.
So if the use of contraception is acceptable, its implications are clear: sex is not inherently ordered to procreation; it is not a total physical gift of self that would imply the lifelong commitment and unity of marriage; and it does not require respect for sexual difference or the integrity of our bodies. With this understanding of sex, people can feel free to have a series of sexual partners and varying kinds of sexual relationships. This contraceptive mentality has so deeply infiltrated our culture's shared understanding of sexuality that it affects most people whether they use contraception or not.
Facilitator of Abortion & Homosexuality
The pro-life movement has been unsuccessful in dislodging abortion from mainstream American culture because it has not challenged the primary instigator of the sexual culture that requires abortion. The availability of contraception, with its promise of pregnancy prevention, has led to an increase in casual and uncommitted sexual relationships. But the order of nature is not easily squelched: no method of contraception is 100 percent effective, even when it's used properly, which it often is not. As a result, unwelcome pregnancies have become more common instead of less. Such pregnancies often occur between people with no interest in living together permanently, let alone raising a child.
Abortion is the necessary fail-safe for such situations, the final solution that ensures that the unwanted child can be disposed of so that his parents can remain sexually liberated. It is the child sacrifice required to maintain the contraceptive culture. A contracepting society, even one that finds abortion repugnant, will still remain unwilling to give up all legal recourse to abortion, just in case their failed contraception, or their non-contracepted promiscuity encouraged by the contraceptive culture, ever leaves them with an unwanted pregnancy. They don't want their daughter "punished with a baby."
The contraceptive mentality has also paved the way for the acceptance of homosexuality. If sex need not be directed toward procreation or conjugal unity, and if sexual differences need not be respected, pleasure or some other kind of personal fulfillment becomes the primary goal—a goal that can be attained by all sorts of misuses of one's body and with any assortment of partners. If the use of contraception is acceptable, there is no principled reason why homosexual acts should not be.
But homosexual acts are immoral, and for the same reason that the use of contraception is immoral: they deny the inherent, natural meaning and order of our sexuality. Or, as St. Paul says in Romans 1:26, they are "contrary to nature."
Thus, a consistent philosophy of sexuality requires that one either oppose both contraception and homosexuality or else embrace them both. Christians who oppose homosexuality but have accepted contraception are being inconsistent; if they (rightly) do not want to embrace homosexuality, then they need also to return to their historical opposition to contraception—which, in fact, was lost only in the last century.
The Costs of Silence
These connections are well known in certain circles, and have been expostulated upon in detail. Why, then, has opposition to contraception remained on the periphery of pro-life and pro-marriage activism? There are at least two reasons for the reluctance to draw too much attention to contraception.
First, the contraceptive mentality is so deeply ingrained in American culture, and contraceptive use so unquestionably considered a great—even necessary—good, that it seems both futile and politically suicidal to fight against it publicly. This is probably a correct assessment for the short term. But since the life and marriage movements ultimately depend for their success upon getting society to reject contraception and the disordered culture it inherently carries with it, they only postpone progress by remaining silent now.
Second, most people today who see the problems with contraception are Catholic (with some Protestant exceptions), and in many quarters the issue of contraception is seen as a strictly Catholic matter. Many Catholics fear that if they speak up about it, they'll alienate their Evangelical Protestant allies in the battles to defend life and marriage. Yet here, too, by remaining silent, they not only fail to address a significant roadblock in the way of their broader cultural goals, but they also allow their allies to unwittingly help perpetuate the problem.
A Major Error
Ceding or ignoring the issue of contraception has proven to be one of the great strategic errors of the pro-life and marriage movements. The blame can be shared by those Protestants who, in the mid-twentieth century, abandoned the historic Christian view of sexuality to accept contraception, and by those Catholics who have actively dissented from their Church's teaching or remained silent (both clergy and laity).
Correcting the sexual confusion from which have sprung both the abortion holocaust and the cultural acceptance of homosexuality requires proclaiming the whole truth about the human person—and this includes opposing contraception and the culture it inherently carries. A serious, well-organized movement against contraception and for the true meaning of our sexuality is necessary to a successful defense of life and marriage in the long term and to any attempt to rebuild a sustainable culture for human flourishing.
A review of Mary Eberstadt's book Adam and Eve After the Pill, published in Christianity Today in 2012, concluded: "In this day and age, such a suggestion will seem ridiculous to Christians and non-Christians alike, but the data is undeniable. If we want to think seriously and Christianly about sex, then we need to think seriously about contraception."
Indeed, the fate of the unborn and the institution of marriage depend on it.
“Stale Mated” first appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Support the work of Touchstone by subscribing today!
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