"We are a small group of young Christians who have spent the past 15 years defending word count and nuance,” write the editors of the website Mere Orthodoxy, “working out what our faith looks like in public. . . . We take our cues from our boys C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton.”
Ever since John Kerry declared himself a “man of nuance” during his 2004 presidential run, my right hand drifts over my holster whenever I hear the word. But still, with a name like “Mere Orthodoxy,” one hopes that it has to be good.
I have to admit that I couldn’t even finish reading my first Mere Orthodoxy article, a 6,100-word defense of contraception and sterilization titled “When Permanent Contraception Can Be Licit.” The author of the piece was surprised to learn how little had been written on the subject of sterilization on Christian websites, and he wonders if one reason for the dearth of articles on the topic is that contraception is already so “clearly permissible” for Christians.
How this all became so clear the article doesn’t say. In the early part of the century in which nearly all of our readers were born, there was no controversy on the topic of contraception—everyone was against it. All of Christendom was against it (including all Protestant denominations), but so were the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, businessmen, artists, and even The New York Times.
At the very least, I would have expected the editors of Mere Orthodoxy to acknowledge what their “boys” Lewis and Chesterton had to say on the subject. Lewis struck down all forms of contraception in The Abolition of Man, and Chesterton wrote at some length against birth control in The Well and the Shadows, from which there is only enough room here to give the editors at Mere Orthodoxy a general sense of what their “boy” had to say:
[T]here are not many things that move me to anything like a personal contempt. I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification. I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs. But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt. And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control . . . it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly thing. . . .
So much for nuance.
J. Douglas Johnson is Executive Editor of Touchstone.
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