Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ruminations on the Spanish Civil War

Our Lord gave us two commandments to live by, just two. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. No complex edifice of rules and regulations, no detailed code: just two sayings by which we should guide our lives. For he said also, My yoke is easy and my burden is light. But today, no less than two thousand years ago, we find these commandments, as simple as they are, unappealing to live by.

We know how to respond to those who live by the two Great Commandments to the extent of their ability: we follow their example, and revere them as good and holy people. We know how to respond to those who deny them: we set our guard against them, and recognize them as the enemy. But how are we to respond to those who follow one of these commandments, to the best of their ability, but not the other? In a struggle between those who love God and those who love their neighbor, whose side should we choose? Our Lord says that the love of God is the first and greatest commandment, but Blessed John the Apostle says If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

The world was tested in such a way during the Spanish Civil War, when Spain was torn apart in a truly apocalyptic struggle. It was a class war, a religious war, a struggle of ideologies, and a proxy war between Germany and Russia. The movie Pan's Labyrinth which I saw again recently dramatizes this struggle wonderful, and reminds us that below the political struggles that we see in the world is the everlasting struggle between Our Lord and his Enemy. But in the war in Spain, neither side was innocent. The world was faced with one side which refused to love God, and another which refused to love their neighbor. I think I would have sided with the Left, reasoning with Blessed John the Apostle that love of our neighbor is, in some sense, prior to the love of God. As St. James the Just tells us, faith without works is dead. But I don't think it would necessarily have been an easy choice. It's worth remembering, though, that in the years since the fall of Soviet Marxism, we've forgotten how evil Fascism truly was, and we've forgotten that the Spanish anarchists and communists, at their best, weren't fighting to establish a Stalinist tyranny or a Soviet colony. They were fighting to establish a country where people were equal, where they shared all things, worked for the common good, and loved one another. Such an ideal wasn't a bad one, and in time it could have been Christianized, just as Platonism was Christianized in its day. (Yes, the leadership of the Spanish Communists was in time taken over by the agents of Russia, but I don't believe this ever characterized the bulk of the Spanish left, and it would have been much less the case if more Christian-socialists and moderate leftists had stayed on the Left rather than siding with the Falange.)

Eduardo Peñalver, a Catholic law professor writing for Commonweal's blog, has made some powerful rebuttals of the arguments often made by conservative or Catholic partisans of the Falange. He argues that there is a fundamental difference between the atrocities of Franco and the atrocities of the short-lived Azaña regime or of the Republican partisans. Let's acknowledge that terrible things were done by the Left in Spain. Many against partisans of the right, which can be perhaps understood as the normal course of war, but many horrible atrocities against religion and the religious: churches burned down, nuns murdered, priests prevented on pain of death from carrying out their duties, and people executed as Fascists for carrying medallions of the Blessed Mother of God . But these were the fruits of anarchy, and they were carried out by renegade anarchist militias answering to no government. They were atrocities that the government of Azaña was too weak or divided to prevent. (The initial attacks on churches, while the Azaña regime was still strong, before the Falangist rising, destroyed the buildings but killed no one.) The blame for them belongs on the people who did them, and to some extent on the antireligious partisans whose words made them possible, but it doesn't pollute and corrode the whole enterprise of the Spanish republic. The atrocities of the Right, however, are different. The two hundred thousand executions, many of them in time of peace after the war was over: the prisoners randomly dragged out of prison and shot: the bombing of civilian areas: the imposition of the power of the landlords, and the oppression of the peasantry......All these were ordered from on high, and with the full approval of Franco. The Falange was responsible for these evils in a way that Azaña's regime wasn't, for it was the Falange that ordered them and carried them out as direct policy.

The history of Spain since 1975 tells us of the horrible error that the Spanish church made when it allied itself with the Falange. The church of Christ is, in the main, guided by the Comforter, the Holy Spirit that descended in the form of a dove. But the church of Christ, no less than any other human institution, has made errors, and grave ones. The moral philosophy of Plato tells us that a thing should be true to its own nature: in that lies its virtue and its excellence. The dove should guide the eagle, but it should never become an eagle itself, nor be a handmaiden to the eagle. When the dove transformed herself into an eagle she betrayed and corrupted her own nature. It was this that led, in part, to the antireligious character of the Spanish left in the first place. The Power of Evil corrupted men's hearts with the lie that Christianity was evil and reactionary, a tool of the rich and powerful- the landlords, the kings, the patriarchy- to maintain their power. That evil power speaks the same lie today, and has led innumerable men and women astray. But the nature of the evil power is that it speaks lies intermixed with a good deal of truth. Lies derive their power and danger from the truth they contain: and the more measure of truth contained in a lie, the more dangerous that lie is. It was perfectly true that too many churchmen, for too long, had made their peace with injustice and oppression, and had prized their own comfort above the love of God and the love of neighbor. The church had, in fact, become the handmaiden of landlords, conquistadors, kings, and oppressors. People saw that truth evident in centuries of Spanish history, and they took those undeniable truths just a step too far- they came to believe the suggestions of evil: that the abuses and immorality of the church meant that Christ was not God, that there was no God, that the church was just a self-interested hierarchy like any other. And this was, of course, a lie- the same lie that evil has used to come close to conquering the world under one unjust system or other, whether that system is headquartered in Moscow or Washington.

The church in Spain could have jumped off the fatal ship of alliance with wealth and power before it hit the iceberg. It could have jumped, still, in 1936, by denouncing Fascism, Bolshevism, and Capitalism with equal force. But it didn't, it allied with Franco. It could have done much worse, of course. The church didn't approve of Franco's worst deeds, its influence probably kept Franco (in spite of his anti-Judaism) from participating in World War II and the Holocaust, and in time, under the influence of the great Pope John XXIII, it roundly denounced Franco. But by then, possibly, it was too late. Spain would, in time, end up with the worst of both worlds: the savage capitalism of the Right, and the cold atheism of the Left. Too many Spaniards, in the years after 1975, decided that the last error of the church was one error too many. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. There has been a massive turn to atheism and agnosticism in what was once the most devoutly Christian nation in Europe. Today's Spain is a country that tolerates gay marriage and abortion, that has one of Europe's lowest birth rates, that is tearing down statues of St. James so as not to offend Muslim immigrants, and whose prime minister cheerfully says "We need more sports, less religion". Now, all that may be well and good for a secular nation like the United States (although abortion is a homicidal atrocity no less in a secular state than a Christian one) but not for the land where St. James is buried, and where Roland fought his last-ditch struggle against the Moors. But this is the revenge of the prince of the world, who is having his last laugh. Peguy said that "The Revolution shall be spiritual, or the Revolution shall not be". Christian Socialist that he was, he could have just as well said, "The Church shall be a friend of the poor, or the Church shall not be". He would have been as right in the case of Spain as he was in the case of Russia. The church of Spain, like all human institutions, made mistakes, for which Christ will forgive her: but mistakes, too, forgiven or not, have their price. Spain is paying the price today, in becoming a place where the evils of the right meet the evils of the left.

In 1936, the Church made a decision to buy its own security and future at the price of turning a blind eye to injustice. And like all of those who choose evil, she was answered with the words of Christ: They have their reward. She got what She paid for: forty years of unquestioned glory, status, honor, and obedience, forty years when socialism, contraception, and non-Catholic faiths were banned from Spanish soil, forty years during which Franco walked beneath the clerical canopy and was hailed as "by the Grace of God, Regent of Spain and Commander of the Last Crusade". For forty days in the desert, Christ denied the third temptation of the devil, who said All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. But we are not as strong as Christ, and neither was the Church: what Christ had denied for 40 days from the hand of the devil, the bride of Christ accepted for 40 years from the hand of the Falange, and she paid for it by discrediting herself- perhaps permanently- in the eyes of future generations of Spaniards. Today in Spain, liberal capitalism is accomplishing what the Moors failed to do in the eighth century, the French in the nineteenth, and the Bolsheviks and Anarchists in the twentieth. They sought to destroy the church of Spain in the name of the Ummah, the Republic of Virtue, or the Dictatorship of the Proletariat- all, in their way, compelling visions for all that they were flawed and wrong. But today, the church is falling at the hands of those who would replace it with an endless utopia of Play Stations, casual hookups, and fast cars. It's a sad vision, and I'm sorry for Spain and the generations of young people who will never grow up hearing these words: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Let us hope that God will forgive this error, and all the errors of history, as it is His nature to forgive, and that out of this evil He will bring good, which is his nature too: and that we will take from this a lesson for now and for ever. That it's better to die with one's values inviolate than to live at the price of one's values, and that we must never listen when someone tells us to love God by denying our neighbor, for Christ is present in our neighbor, as much today as when he said Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost: as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall ever be. Amen.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Chavez arrests the anti-Semitic terrorists, after only a week....

Breaking news: 11 people, including a member of the federal capital police force, have been arrested in connexion with last week's attack on a Jewish synagogue in Caracas. That was, one may say, quick and excellent police work, and proof that the Chávez regime despises anti-Semitism as much as any decent person. Venezuela is a state with no place for racism of any kind, and no tolerance for anti-Semitism.

One must ask how long it would be in the United States before 11 suspects were apprehended in connexion with a hate crime. One suspects, quite a bit longer than a week.

The good intentions and clean heart of Mr. Chávez have been revealed yet again, as has the fact that he hasn't an anti-Semitic bone in his body. Indeed, the head of the Venezuelan Jewish community just applauded his actions and expressed his approval of the president. But of course, we can't expect the opposition in Venezuela or the mainstream Washington Consensus in the U.S. to even acknowledge the fact that these vile, extreme-leftist anti-Semites have been arrested. Can't say anything good about Chávez, don't you know.

Those people make me almost as sick as the anti-Semites themselves.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

My thoughts about birth control

Hey everyone,

I'd appreciate your thoughts! This is cross posted from my blog. I've been thinking about birth control and my thoughts on it, in light of both my Christian faith and environmentalism. This is my best attempt to explain why I think birth control is OK, even though many Christians disagree. I actually would love to hear people try to convince me otherwise, I'm open to being convinced, and I love debate. I have tried to state the 'Objections' to birth control as fairly as possible, and then to explain why I think they're invalid.

Question: Whether chemical contraception is against nature and immoral?

1. Objection: Chemical contraception is against nature by virtue of its means: it alters the hormonal balance of the woman's body to frustrate reproduction.

Reply: Lactation suppresses fertility through a similar means: it alters hormonal balances in the woman's body, and is up to 98% effective at suppressing pregnancy when no other means of contraception is used. When correctly used it can provide safety for 14 months. It was used as a means of contraception by pre-modern tribes, and is recommended by health manuals in developing countries today. If lactational amenorrhea is licit, then the Pill cannot be illicit with respect to its means. A tip: if you are going to use this method of birth control, you need to feed the baby 6-10 times per day. Apparently you are also not supposed to leave the baby at any time, or as the article puts it charmingly, 'do not let anything come between mother and baby.' How adorable. Anyway, if this method is licit they I don't see how the Pill can not be.

2. Objection: Chemical contraception is against nature by virtue of its proximate end: it seeks to control the transmission of life in order to frustrate reproduction.

Reply: Natural family planning also seeks to control fertility and to avoid pregnancy. It is widely used for the purposes of avoiding pregnancy, has been so used for hundreds of years, and is successfully used as the method of choice in Poland, which has achieved a fertility rate well below replacement (1.27 births per woman in 2008). It has also been used by large numbers of women in Brazil, which has recently achieved replacement level fertility. If natural family planning is licit, then the Pill cannot be illicit with respect to its immediate end.

3. Objection: Reproduction is the natural purpose of sexual intercourse, and to indulge in deliberately non-procreative intercourse is to contravene natural law.

Reply: Sexual activity has many purposes that are evident in nature. Animals have intercourse for a variety of reasons, but they certainly don't do it with the conscious intent of producing children. Sexual activity can achieve a variety of ends: the expression of love, the production of children, social bonding, affection, or pleasure. Similarly, eating can be pleasurable, and it can serve the ends of replenishing and nourishing the body. There is no requirement that every act of eating must satisfy all these ends at the same time: if there were, then eating chocolate would be a sin, as would eating bread and water (not very pleasurable).

On the contrary, a healthy life is one in which the overall purpose of eating is consistent with the reasonable nourishment of the body, and in which the overall acquisition of goods is consistent with supporting oneself and one's family in modest and reasonable comfort and contributing to the succor of one's neighbor. And similarly, a healthy sexual relationship is one characterized by love, affection, and commitment, and one which is (eventually) open to marriage and children. One should not exclude children entirely from one's life, except for very grave reasons, but there is no reason the procreative end must be implicit in every sexual act. The Orthodox believe that marriages in general ought to be open to procreation, but every sexual act need not- traditionalist Anglicans like Fr. Nazir-Ali of England believe the same way. I agree with them.

4. Objection: Hormonal control of fertility is absent from nature and from human history, it is a modern violation of nature.

Reply: There's nothing 'modern' about hormonal control of fertility. Evolution itself tends to reduce fertility in a variety of species under conditions of overpopulation. Some plants produce contraceptive compounds to keep the population of their predators in check. Please see the Central American peccary, and a local yam it feeds on. In India there are currently efforts to extract contraceptive compounds from the neem tree, which is a widespread and widely grown tree with well-known medicinal and insecticidal properties. If nature produces contraceptive compounds to keep populations of species in balance, then I see no reason why we should not consciously do the same thing.

5. Objection: The Pill is no different than a condom, and they are both unnatural and immoral.

Reply: Condoms impose a physical barrier between a couple, and would seem to violate the idea that man and woman should becme 'one flesh'. The Pill, on the other hand, was intended to mimic the natural hormonal changes associated with pregnancy in the woman's body. Also they have greater potential for furthering promiscuous liaisons than the Pill. A plausible case can be made why condoms are immoral but the Pill is not. Indeed, I'd largely share that opinion myself., It was also the opinion of Paul VI's advisory council, which he disagreed with.

6. Objection: The world has resources for a much greater population, and the Pill is unneccessary.

Reply: No, it doesn't, and some kind of birth control is necessary. We are running out of one resource after another right now. Many fisheries have collapsed to 5% or less of their premodern abundance. Many tropical countries have lost 75% or more of their rain forests and dry forests. We are running out of fossil fuels, clean water, and arable land. Many of our most interesting and beautiful wildlife species, to say nothing of innumerable plants, have gone extinct, and we can expect to lose many more in the near future. The West African Black Rhino, the Central African White Rhino, the Chinese River Dolphin, the Sea Mink, the Steller's Sea Cow, the Quagga, and so many other species have gone extinct, and how many more are on the brink of extinction? Look at a map of the world, and how much of the areas that were once covered by pristine forest or grassland are now overwhelmingly human-dominated. There are some parts of the world, yes, that are still underpopulated, but on a global scale we are close to or well over our carrying capacity, and have achieved that status by essentially wiping out natural ecosystems and diverse and beautiful species, all over the globe. None of this means that any individual should have more or fewer children. Personally I plan to have three, one of my good friends wants to have four, and I hope she does. But couples should have the freedom to make that decision for themselves. Birth control is an important way for us to reduce our population pressure on the planet, and to allow natural ecosystems to recover, and prevent ourselves from depleting the world's natural resources. Ask any ecologist or biologist and they will tell you that human population growth has had a heavy negative impact for the world's ecosystems, and continues to be a big problem today.

Having children is a good thing, but we should be able to regulate our procreation in the interests of protecting the environment. Too much of a good thing can become a very bad thing indeed. My goodness, the great second-century Christian writer Tertullian argued that the Roman Empire was overpopulated and that famines and diseases were but nature's way of dealing with the overpopulation stress. Of course, he supported complete celibacy as the solution, rather than birth control.

7. Objection: Christianity has always forbidden contraception, and there is no room for a Christian to accept it.

Reply: It's true that the mainstream Christian tradition forbade contraception up until 1930 (more on that below). However, there have always been plenty of dissident Christians who disagreed, and who held that procreation did not deserve the high estate and the 'only legitimate function of sex' appelation it was given. The Cathars and their allies, most notably. These were Christians; although you can legitimately call them heretical Christians they undoubtedly believed that Christ was God. The fact that the mainstream Christian tradition won out does not mean it was the correct one. The mainstream Christian tradition also said, after all, things about the Jews that we would disagree with today. The Holy Spirit guides the church for the most part, but sometimes in a slow, tortured, roundabout way. Every one of the five ancient patriarchates has undoubtedly erred on at least one serious occasion, and if they have erred on one issue why could they not have erred on another? Mainstream Christian doctrine was largely developed _in reaction to_ those groups who held, as Borges imaginatively described them, things like "Mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind." And we know that extremism on one side quickly begets extremism on its opposite side. Isn't it possible that the truth on this matter lies somewhere in between the orthodox and the heretic, that while procreation is a good thing, neither is it always morally necessary?

8. Objection: The _mainstream_ Christian church has always forbidden contraception, up until the 1930 Lambeth decision. It is said, "To have intercourse for reasons other than procreation is to do injury to nature," (Clement of Alexandria), and it is said, "The genital part of the body has been received by us, as the name implies, for no other reason than the having of children," (Lactantius), and it is also said, "[God] permits the delight of mortal flesh to be released from the control of the reason (in copulation) only to bear children," (St. Augustine).

Reply: The church historically condemned contraception for varied and inconsistent reasons, which by their very diversity suggests the fact that none of them alone is strong. If someone starts arguing with you and brings in a new argument as soon as you challenge his old one, that suggests he has a weak case. The early Church condemned birth control because it, rightly, was seen as shading into abortion: most early contraceptives also had abortifacient properties, and it was not possible then to isolate chemicals that would specifically prevent ovulation. Later clerics opposed birth control because sexual pleasure was seen as essentially immoral (most notably, by Augustine, and by a number of church fathers) but no major church holds that position today. Let's be clear, the Natural Family Planning method, which the Catholic Church supports, was also condemned by the aforementioned church fathers. One need only read the quotations above to see that. The dissenting Anglicans at Lambeth talked about 'race suicide', and 'a pleasure-mad age', neither of which Paul VI cites in Humanae Vitae, and both of which seem fairly weak- the Vietnamese and Lebanese who use birth control widely today don't appear to me to be particularly pleasure-mad. And then you have the arguments in Humanae Vitae. The fact that the Church opposed contraception for so long should give us reason to think, and reason not to entirely exclude the potentiality of eventual procreation from a healthy sexual relationship- a completely childless marriage is, I think, generally wrong. But that doesn't necessarily mean that mainstream Christianity was right. It has been wrong about other things in the past- notably, whether the Jewish people was eternally cursed of God, which the Catholic church today certainly doesn't believe they are.

Let me repeat again: _every_ major church today, including those which oppose contraception, do support things like natural family planning that the Church Fathers would have found sinful. We must conclude that in some matters, as great as they were, these authorities were wrong. The church- all churches- has changed its position on things before: whether the exaction of interest is ever OK, whether "extra ecclesiam nulla salus est", and so forth. And quite rightly. Truth is something that we learn gradually, over centuries and millennia. Fundamental moral principles don't change, but our ways of applying them in the context of our time can and does- and, I think, should. It is said, "For now I see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I understand partly, but then I shall understand fully, even as I shall be fully understood" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

9. Objection: Natural family planning works as well as the Pill, and therefore the Pill is unnecessary. See the example of Poland, above.

Reply: It can work as well as the Pill, when practiced carefully and assiduously. However, not everyone is up to the task of practicing it perfectly, and some women's cycles are simply too variable and difficult to predict for the method to work. I believe in NFP, and have recommended it to women in Africa before, when I occasionally gave family planning talks in my village. And let me tell you, there's nothing funnier than a 20-something American guy try to say the Malagasy words for 'vaginal mucus" to a crowd of women in their teens and twenties with a straight face. And I have argued forcefully with my more liberal and less religious friends and colleagues that NFP is a legitimate, effective, and under-utilized choice. But it isn't and shouldn't be the only moral option. And what about women who are raped? wouldn't it be better if they had been on the Pill?

10. Objection: The Pill can result in the abortion of a conceived embryo.

Reply: This is one of the newer arguments, designed to convince people like me who support the Pill, but hate abortion. It is known that the Pill can cause thinning of the endometrial layer, and it is argued this could destroy a fertilized egg that fails to implant, the same way an IUD would. It is a subtle and sophisticated argument, and a compelling one. However, it is just speculation: informed speculation, interesting speculation, but without any scientific evidence that it's anything more than speculation. It is spoken about as a hypothetical, but in the absence of serious evidence there is little reason to believe it ever happens. It would be better, of course, to combine NFP and the Pill: to be on the Pill, and still only be sexually active during the infertile period, thus avoiding the risk of even accidental pregnancy. Still, abortion of a conceived embryo is vanishingly rare if it happens, and is certainly not the INTENDED outcome of using the Pill. Ortiz et al. (2004) found no evidence that emergency contraception- a stronger version of the Pill, applied post intercourse- caused spontaneous abortion in Capuchin monkeys. That's right, no evidence. There was not a single spontaneous abortion among the 26 pregnancies recorded in the study. Similar studies (Muller et al., 2003) found no evidence that pregnancy was disrupted in laboratory rats by the application of emergency contraception.

Abortion is a great evil, but the Pill is simply not a means of abortion.

11. Objection: The possibility that the Pill could lead to spontaneous abortion of a conceived embryo is enough reason to consider it too dangerous to use.

Reply: Let's grant this hypothetical for a moment, that somewhere, sometime, somehow, a hypothetical conceived embryo could fail to implant because the Pill has thinned the endometrial layer. Is this equivalent to abortion, and should it be considered a form of abortion? No, for three reasons.
a) Abortion is not the general and intended effect: it's an occasional and thoroughly unintended side effect. Under the principle of double effect, which goes back several hundreds of years, it is permissible to do something which has two effects- a main, general, effect which is good, and an unintended side effect which is bad- if we can be sure that the main effect is good, the side effect is unintended, and the good effect is much more likely. Assuming that the goal of family planning and fertility regulation is good, it would seem that the Pill is justified on the basis of the double effect principle.
b) Even if the Pill may very slightly increase the _conditional_ probability of an already fertilized egg failing to implant, it reduces the number of fertilized eggs to begin with. And this in turn decreases the _unconditional_ probability of a spontaneous abortion. I.e. the probability of a spontaneous abortion is the product of (likelihood of fertilization) x (likelihood of a fertilized egg failing to implant). Since the decrease in the former term is much greater than the increase in the latter, the overall effect is to decrease the number of spontaneous abortions.
c) Lactation (nursing) which was already mentioned, is known to increase the probability of spontaneous abortions, i.e. of conceived ova being destroyed. If you want to claim the Pill is wrong due to its potential effect on implantation, then you should also claim that lactation is wrong.

12. Objection: The Pill is leading to demographic suicide in Europe.

Reply: Birth rates have greatly dropped in Europe (to be fair, they've dropped EVERYWHERE- the only parts of the world that are still growing fast are in Africa are the Middle East). In Europe, in particular, they've dropped too fast. European countries, in large part, are not replacing their populations: they are having to resort to immigration, which is leading to the decline of traditional European culture and religion. Not everywhere, but in many places. And that's sad, and something we should avoid- I'd like Europe to retain its Christian roots. But do we really want to raise the birth rate back to 3 or 4 children per woman on the average? No, that would create the even bigger demographic disaster of overpopulation, and a corresponding collapse in natural resource availability. No species in nature, and no society in history, has been able to grow indefinitely: those who do not regulate their population have it regulated for them, by disease, famine, and death. If you want to raise the birth rate in Europe to a reasonable level (say about 2.0) then the best way to make that fine adjustment would be to outlaw abortion, to enforce the law, and to encourage childbearing through education, financial incentives, and restructuring society to make childbearing easier. Society can and should encourage childbearing, but for childbearing to be maintained at socially and environmentally responsible levels, the Pill needs to be an option.

13. Objection:The Pill has led (cf. Humanae Vitae) to men having less respect for women.

Reply: Really? People say this, but I doubt it. In Victorian England women had few property rights, no voting rights, little ability to pursue a career or a profession. In the West, women lacked equal work and educational opportunities until the 1960s. This has come with some terrible side effects (abortion, most notably) but in itself it's a good thing and has led to more respect for women, not less. In the Victorian Age, any unmarried woman who was sexually active was the subject of extreme disrespect from society- and of course, this coexisted with a massive sex trade. This, in my mind, is one of the best arguments for the sexual revolution (which I accept only to a certain degree, and many of the extreme forms of which I abhor, like abortion, pornography and so forth). If the 'respect' for women in the past was conditional on them fulfiling an extremely narrow role, and if it was necessarily parasitic on a giant prostitution industry, then how moral was the past, really? Sure, the Pill empowered some people who took advantage of their new freedoms to abuse and disrespect women. But to condemn the Pill because it empowered abhorrent yahoos like Judith Jarvis Thompson and Hugh Hefner is like condemning the cassette tape player because it empowered the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Pill empowered many people to do good things with their lives, as well as some to do ill, but on balance I think women are better off today.

14. Objection: The Pill has led (cf. Humanae Vitae) to more marital infidelity, and to more pre- and extramarital sex.

Reply: More premarital sex, certainly. More extramarital sex, possibly. (There was lots in the old days too). That's largely because of a generally laxer attitude towards marriage and morality, and an increasing nihilism as it pertains to sexual morality. Which need to be fought on their own terms, not by bringing in the Pill. Hell, widespread abortion can coexist with conservative sexual morality, as it does in India, China and Japan; and surely contraception is much less against natural law, and traditional morality, than abortion. And there were many cultures prior to the invention of the Pill where adultery was widespread- just check out the more traditional parts of Africa. I don't think that all premarital sex is illicit- if it takes place in the context of a committed, loving, boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, in which both parties are open to the possibility of eventual marriage and children, and if both the boy and the girl are legal adults who have a backup plan in the case of pregnancy (i.e. either getting married and keeping the baby, or giving it up for adoption). More casual sex, and all extramarital sex with a few exceptions, is immoral in my opinion. But you can continue to oppose those things while supporting the Pill. The prostitution houses of Victorian England didn't need the Pill to function.

15. Objection: One cannot (cf. Elizabeth Anscombe) make a case for birth control that does not also imply the acceptance of homosexuality.

Reply: Yes, you can. Homosexuality is qualitatively different than birth control in that not it doesn't even involve the same organs, and it doesn't accord with the natural division of the genders. The fact that both acts are non-procreative makes them similar in one way but not in the most important ways. A homosexual relationship can never lead to the production of biological children, while a heterosexual relationship that uses birth control can still be open EVENTUALLY to children, just not here and now. I don't want to get into the arguments over whether homosexuality is OK morally or not. Personally I'm agnostic on the issue, and legally I think that in a secular, non-Christian society like the United States, that explicitly is not founded on (and in many ways rejects) the Christian/neo-Hellenic conception of natural law, there are no grounds to keep gay marriage against the law. But it is perfectly possible to support birth control and oppose homosexuality, consistently.

16. Objection: The contraceptive mentality has led to legalized abortion.

Reply: Legalized abortion is one of the many abominations of modern society. However, it would be truer to say that contraception and abortion, in the United States, were both legalized for similar reasons than to say one implies the other. In point of fact, one excludes the other: contraception, used assiduously, obviates the circumstances for abortion. Societies in which contraception is widely available often have low abortion rates (see the Scandinavian countries), and there are many countries (particularly in Latin America) where contraception is widespread, fertility rates have greatly dropped to around replacement level or a little higher, and abortion is still throroughly and safely illegal. In Chile and Ireland, the illegal abortion rate is lower than it was a decade ago, because of increased contraceptive use. Abortion was far from unknown in previous centuries, indeed it was a common (illegal) method of birth control precisely because contraception was unavailable. Realistically, one of the best arguments for contraception is that it addresses a problem that would otherwise be addressed by the brutal and immoral means of abortion.

17. Objection: Exerting control over when life is created is an usurpation of the sovereignty of God, and an assertion that we are the masters of our own lives and destinies, which is contradicted by the Christian faith; as it is said, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:43).

Reply: So is medicine, and so are the attempts to prolong life. Do we really want to do away with medicine? It is, I think, generally wrong to avoid children entirely, except for serious reasons, but what is wrong with regulating them? By avoiding intercourse during a fasting period like Lent, we thus decide that certain particular genetic combinations that would lead to a particular child, will never come into being. Is that degree of 'control' therefore a sin? In the passage above, Christ is referring to the choice whether or not to escape his execution. Now there is certainly no general rule that we should not try to escape execution if we are innocent. Thus the verse above is best taken as a general guideline for our life, but not one that is intended to prevent us from taking control of our lives- and our fertility- in every single instance. I agree that we should not try to have _absolute_ control of our bodies, lives, and destinies, and in that light I say we have no right to end a pregnancy if one should begin, except for reasons of life and death. But contraception merely attempts a certain measure of control over our fertility, it does not establish total control as abortion does.

18. Objection: The pollution of the environment with synthetic hormones and estrogens is bad for fish and aquatic animals, therefore the Pill is bad for the environment.

Reply: That's terrible, but a human population of 12 billion or more would be much worse for the environment than a few more contraceptive residues in the water. Overpopulation is simply the biggest threat that faces the environment, not contraceptive residues. We can design better contraceptives that break down more readily: this isn't a reason to get rid of the technology entirely. Especially when we still use plastics, insecticides, and industrial chemicals that harm the environment in much more dangerous ways.

19. Objection: Artificial birth control is condemned by the leadership of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church (though not by all the Eastern Orthodox churches). Therefore their decision must be deferred to, at least if you're in one of those churches.

Reply: Even as a high church Anglican (Anglo-Catholic really), I do listen to them, and take seriously their criticism. However, I still disagree. And I also disagree that the authority of any church- even one as great as the church of Rome or of Moscow- should take primacy over our conscience. Our conscience is ultimately the most important guide that any of us have. When Nicodemus argued on behalf of Christ, and when Joseph of Arimathea placed myrrh on his body, they were following their consciences against the religious authority of their time. It is said, "Test all things, hold fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Conscience can sometimes be our truest and surest guide, too, for it is further said, "Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:15). St. Thomas Aquinas said that it was morally binding on us to follow the dictates of our conscience, even in the face of the authorities of church or state: for to disregard our conscience (even it meant doing was actually right) meant rebelling against _what we understood_ of right and wrong, which would be an intrinsic rebellion of the will. "To refrain from sexual immorality (Latin "fornicatio") is good, but the will does not tend to this good except insofar as its goodness is proposed by the reason. If therefore, the erring reason perceives it as an evil, then the will tends to it as something evil. Consequently the will is evil, for it tends to something evil...." (Summa Theologica 2:2:19:5). Thus even (especially?) in matters of sexual morality, of which birth control is certainly one, St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that our conscience should be the supreme and most important guide. This is why the Anglican church considers scripture, tradition, and reason to be the three guides that God has left us to understand the truth about faith and morality. Learning about morality is an ongoing process, and Christ did not give us all the answers on a platter: rather He left us thousands of years to reason things over, with His church as a guide and His life as an example, promising that we would receive new, previously hidden knowledge in time: the white stone that will bear "a new name which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it" (Revelation 2:17).

20. Objection: Contraception is contrary to the spirit of Christ, who gave us a life giving love.

Reply: Is it? Christ told us to love our neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:39), and that this was the foundation (along with the love of God) for all morality. But I don't see that the use of contraception by couples in committed, long-term relationships, for good economic, social, and environmental reasons violates that. A couple might choose contraception out of love for the woman who might need not to bear children for health reasons; out of a desire to express and deepen their love even at a time when (perhaps young and unmarried) they might not be ready to bear children; out of a desire not to contribute to a growing world population that strains our resources; out of a desire to better care for future children. I don't see that any of these are contrary to the love of God or our neighbor. Abortion is a serious moral evil, but I think that some forms of contraception are not.

Romantic love between two people in a relationship, at best, is a mirror of the love between Christ and his people. It is said, "And I, John, saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven as a bride adorned for her husband" (Revelation 21:2). And also, "Love your wives as Christ loved the church" (Ephesians 5:25). But the love of Christ that is poured out in us, has many fruits. Faith, hope, and charity are a few of them, as are romantic love, the love of beauty, generosity, kindness, and so forth. Each of these things is good in and of itself, even if it is not accompanied by the others. For example, when we express our faith through prayer or fasting, it is valuable and good even if we do not accompany it with charitable work: and likewise, charitable work is good even when done by someone who lacks faith. The aspects of Divine love, therefore, maintain their value even when taken one by one. Therefore if human love is an image of divine love, the aspects of human love (the procreative, the affectional, the relational, the sacrificial) are good even when taken one by one, even if a healthy relationship should include all of them. Therefore it is not intrinsically wrong to separate the procreative element of a sexual act from the affectional, relational, etc.

21. Objection: Holy Scripture condemns birth control. It is said "Be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28), and it is said, "[Onan] spilled [his seed] on the ground, so that he should not give seed to his brother....wherefore [the Lord] slew him also," (Genesis 38:9), and again it is said, "Happy is the man who has his quiver full of [children]" (Psalm 127:5). Furthermore it is said, "Without are dogs, and sorcerers...." (Revelation 22:15). Now the word for 'sorceror' is 'pharmakos', meaning 'brewer of potions', and a common use of such potions in the ancient world was to avoid the birth of children. Thus the condemnation of 'sorcerors' is intended to condemn birth control.

Reply: No, it doesn't. As for the command in Genesis 1, even Tertullian, the fiery and spirit-filled early church father, held that this commandment no longer applied because the world was already overpopulated. The sin of Onan, in context, involved the failure to honor a specific promise to his brother's wife, and even if we accept the traditional interpretation that this refers to sexual acts, strictly speaking it only refers to coitus interruptus. The condemnation of 'sorcerers' in St. John's Revelation is better understood as a condemnation of abortion, not contraception, as the 'potions' under discussion were abortifacient drugs, not contraceptives, and anyway the condemnation of witchcraft goes much deeper than merely condemning particular types of drugs- they also condemn non-medical 'sorcerors'. And as for the Psalm, of course children can be a blessing. I love children, and I'd like to have three of them! That said, they are not always a blessing for every couple, or for every society. Just because X is a good thing, does not mean more of X is better. There are good environmental, social, and financial reasons why it may be reasonable to have smaller families. Every major church today supports the _idea_ of family planning, we are just debating about the means (natural vs. 'artificial').

I'll say again: I deeply respect the thought process that went into Humanae Vitae. Hell, I even find its reasoning quite compelling, to an extent, as far as condoms and similar barrier methods (the pill is different, though). Pope Paul VI was undoubtedly a great man, almost a socialist in economics, and a saintly one. He did an incredible amount of good for the world: by keeping alive the Christian faith in troubled times, by striving for social justice and peace throughout the world, and for doing everything he did in a spirit of love. He was right to address birth control from the point of view of natural law, and right to keep alive the natural law framework of reasoning. That overall framework (whether you agree with the specific conclusions of Plato, Aquinas, Paul VI, or anyone else) is the right one, and every other framework of moral reasoning (rights-based, Marxist, libertarian, consequentialist) is fatally flawed. He was a good man, and a great one. And he was right to warn of the dangers of taking the contraception culture to an extreme: to a world in which childbearing and motherhood are devalued, and promiscuity, abortion, pornography, 'swinnging', meaningless encounters, and anonymous hookups in nightclubs are tolerated and legitimized. His heart was, I think, in the right place. But on this question, he took an overly restrictive and forbidding position, and he was wrong.

I hope that what I've said is the truth. To paraphrase St. Joan, the Maid of Orleans, if it is, then may God continue to keep me in the truth, and if it isn't then may God guide me to the truth. Amen.

Upcoming post on contraception....

I went to a talk on Monday which talked about the Catholic Church position on abortion and contraception. Naturally (if you know me) I had a qualified acceptance of their position on abortion (although I would make exceptions in dire circumstances), and a qualified disagreement with their position on contraception (although I am not a big fan of all forms, and I think they can be used for bad reasons as well as good). I feel, however, that there isn't enough intellectual debate on the subject of Humanae Vitae, and the Church opposition to birth control, among Christians and others who agree with the general natural-law framework, but who disagree with the encyclical (which includes most Anglicans, Orthodox, and Protestants, as well as most Catholic laypeople). If you're going to disagree with the reasoning in Humanae Vitae you should know why: this was, actually, said at the talk, and I agree. When I have some time I will write a point-by-point "Reply to the Objections" put forth in Humanae Vitae against birth control.

Chavez responds, firmly and decisively, to anti-Semitism in Venezuela

On January 30th, the main Jewish Synagogue in Caracas was vandalized. Several sacred Jewish objects were desecrated, the guards were tied up, and anti-Semitic slogans written on the wall. Predictably, the Venezuelan opposition and its U.S. patrons have been blaming the Chávez Government- ahead of a referendum on removing term limits next month, which Chávez is expected to narrowly win- of being behind the desecration.

Now, obviously, the desecration of the synagogue was a terrible thing, and I don't blame Jewish people in Venezuela or the United States for being upset. But there is no evidence- I repeat, none- that the Chávez regime is behind this. Any more than there is reason to believe that Chávez was behind the attacks on the residence of the papal nuncio. These attacks were the work of independent rogue elements (I'll get to who they might have been in a minute). If you think that the government was behind the anti-Semitic attacks, then please think about this: what did they possibly have to gain? There are only 12,000 Jews in Venezuela, they are a tiny minority that don't possibly pose any threat to Chavez. In fact, the leaders of the Jewish community in Venezuela have generally had cordial relations with Chávez in the past.

Those people who accuse Chávez of being anti-Semitic because of his speech two years ago about 'those who killed Christ', frankly, don't know what they are talking about. In context, the speech condemned '10% of the world's population', 'those who control the natural resources of the world', 'those who killed Christ, and who also killed Bolivar'. The Jews are not 10% of the world's population, they didn't kill Bolivar, and Israel has few if any natural resources. Ergo, Chavez wasn't talking about the Jews: he was talking about the rich and powerful, about those who live comfortable existences and profit from the labor of others, and was identifying them with the religious and secular authorities of the first century (Roman, Greek and Jewish) who killed Christ. As a Christian, Chavez was borrowing a common theme of liberation theology- you may disagree or agree with liberation theology, but it certainly isn't anti-Semitic. Chavez has, of course, been strongly critical of Israel during the recent Gaza War, but he has every right to be (whether he's right or wrong): Israel has done some pretty terrible things, the ultimate justice of their cause aside. Chavez, moreover, is hardly alone in saying that.

The Jewish community of Venezuela has suffered some sporadic verbal abuse and vandalism in the past, but none of this, NONE, was ordered from on high. The Socialist Party blog recently purged itself of some scurrilously anti-Semitic statements made by some random commenter; Chavez and a number of his ministers have made strong statements condemning the violence and calling for tolerance, and the Foreign Minister Maduro has launched an effort to find the culprits and punish them to the extent of the law. Chavez has made clear efforts to address the attacks and declare that all desecration of religious sanctuaries in Venezuela is absolutely beyond the pale.

Before we launch accusations of anti-Semitism, we need to have solid evidence that
the government is responsible. There is no such evidence, because they aren't. Most likely, these deplorable actions were carried out by spies of the opposition pretending to be extreme-left radicals. Agents provocateurs, in other words. They are trying to split the revolutionary forces by acting more Chavista than the Chavistas: but if you look beyond rhetoric to actions, they are simply serving the interests of the enemies of Chavez, and thus betraying their real masters. Of course, we don't know if these attacks were actually carried out by opposition agents: they could very well have been carried out by sincere ultra-left Chavista splinter groups. Be that as it may, all such splinter groups must be eradicated and suppressed, using all tools that the legal system and the army have at their disposal. The first thing a revolution has to be able to do is to police itself, and to purge itself of those who would join the revolution for less than noble ends.
These renegade "Chavistas", whether they be ultra-leftists or (as I suspect) spies and agents of the conservative opposition, must be found, imprisoned and their organization eliminated.

These attacks should tell us that there are threats to the Bolivarian Revolution from within as well as without. It's time for the Chavez Government to turn its awesome power and force on those pseudo-leftists who are really just anti-Semitic gangsters, and possibly even spies serving the interests of the oligarchs, and make it clear that this revolution's enemies are not the Jews, or any other religious group, but rather the oligarchy.