MercatorNet: When Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical on human life, Humanae Vitae, explaining why contraception (as distinct from periodic abstinence) was unacceptable theologically and even from a merely human point of view, there was a widespread negative reaction, including amongst Catholics. This seems surprising, given that the pill had only been available for about a decade. Obviously attitudes had been changing for some time. What were the philosophical antecedents of that particular “1968” revolt?
Dr Tollefsen: Certainly the widespread acceptance of a utilitarian, or consequentialist mentality, both in philosophy, and as a matter of political culture, contributed to the reaction. The view that good consequences could make right, even obligatory, any kind of action provided cover for theologians who wanted to argue that there were no moral absolutes, and that sexual and reproductive morality needed to consider the overall good of married, or even unmarried couples. This gets things the wrong way round, however. As Pope John Paul II argued in Veritatis Splendor, the commandments in fact protect human goods and human flourishing, and this is true of the Church’s teaching on contraception.
Contraception and abortion are the fruit of bad philosophy. My favourite encyclical is John Paul II’s Vertitatis Splendor – “the Splendour of Truth” where he takes apart and dismantles the moral relativism and nihilism that are at the root of abortion and contraception.
MercatorNet: Pre-marital sex, cohabitation in place of marriage, marital infidelity, increased divorce rates — these and other ills besetting marriage and the family have been traced to contraception. Is that too simplistic? Is the so-called contraceptive mentality really that pivotal to trends in society today?
Dr Tollefsen: It is difficult to overstate how deeply contraception has affected our social world. It is not simply that there is always a direct causal connection – no one is saying “Well, because people contracept, their marriages will fail,” for example. But contraception makes possible a world in which pre-marital chastity is no longer necessary; and this creates a world in which marital chastity is more difficult. It creates a world in which there is tremendous pressure on both spouses to work, and to postpone children, and this also creates new tensions in the family. And it seems plausible that the idea that we are entitled to the unrestricted satisfaction of our sexual desires has played a considerable role in the growth of the pornography industry, which also has wreaked havoc on the family. So the end result of a world broadly shaped by contraception is a world that is far from friendly to marriage and family.
Like I’ve always said: No contraception? No pornography. Porn is fake sex. False sex. Sex that isn’t real. It’s fantasy sex. Sex without commitment. Sex without unity. Sex for pleasure only. Sex with no consequences.
Porn isn’t all these things simply because it’s between two people in front of a camera. It’s all these things because the pseudo barrier of contraception between them makes it so.
If you’re having sex with contraception, you are effectively providing the moral and socialogical foundation for the porn industry. If you’re not particularly comfortable with that, you need to cease and desist on the rubbers and other sterilization instruments.
MercatorNet: One of the most controversial claims about contraception is that it leads to widespread abortion. Many conscientious people are angered and appalled at this claim, but are they kidding themselves?
Dr Tollefsen: I’m afraid so. Contraception made possible something that many human beings have always wanted: sex without consequences. Prior to the twentieth century, the consequences of extramarital sexuality were typically pregnancy, sometimes disease, and often a vastly lowered reputation. But contraceptive technology certainly lowers the probability of the first and the third of those consequences… to a point. However, it does not entirely eliminate the possibility of pregnancy; and so sex without consequences, even with widespread contraception, remains out of reach without access to abortion. So I think it is a natural thought to go from being a pro-life opponent of abortion, to being a pro-life proponent of pre-marital and marital chastity.
Of course. Where contraception is, abortion is – in high numbers. If the condom tore or you missed your third pill of the month, you’re gonna get pregnant sooner or later. That’s when abortion comes into play. A man and woman who are consciously saying “no” to human life while having sex are not generally going to change their minds when nature tells them something they don’t want to hear.
MercatorNet: To claim that using the Pill is unethical is counter-cultural — so much so that most people dismiss it out of hand. Do you have a two-sentence sound bite to help people sit up and think about the issue?
Dr Tollefsen: I think people should ask themselves whether the world the Pill makes possible — a world in which a sexual relationship comes with no commitment to a permanent and exclusive union with the hope of children, and in which marriage is often seen as a partnership for the mutual acquisition of money and status, with children an optional add-on – is a world that has made them, or their friends and family happier. They might be surprised at what an honest answer would show. (Source)
The answer is no. We see it all around us. And we know the answer intuitively. Pumping our daughters and wives with cancerous chemicals or hacking our sexual organs for the purpose of sterilization is instinctively wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.