I think we’ve missed the point
Thomas Maranges | Wednesday, February 8, 2012
It looks like the debate over contraception in these hallowed pages of discourse are drawing to a close — nonetheless, I’d like to make some remarks about the tone of the debate and the overall point.
First, I’d like to thank the officers of the Right to Life club for lending their considerable expertise as officers to an undergraduate club to this discussion. Had you not written in and mentioned in two separate places that you are officers of that esteemed club, we might not have known where you stood on life issues. Clarification from such credentialed dignitaries can be very helpful in understanding terms and sharpening discussion. In short: tragedy averted by your letter.
Still, I can’t believe anyone would disagree that responsible use of contraception has important, objective benefits. That seems almost self-evident — the role of condoms in the prevention of the transmission of STDs is one obvious benefit. The mitigation of poor decision-making is another. The ability to take control of one’s future is crucial, and it is these benefits that led Paul VI’s advisory council to recommend, in the majority, that Catholics be allowed to use birth control. Obviously, the Pope ruled differently and that is binding — I don’t mean to suggest we each get to rule individually on the council’s results. But the Pontifical Council was a council made up of committed, faithful Catholics who loved the Church and who struggled in good faith to discern the truth. I’m not sure I trust anyone who cannot appreciate the perspective of the two sides of this debate, or anyone who must engage in discussions of morality by denying facts about the world, as if admitting that contraceptives have some objective benefits flings us head-first down the slope of moral nihilism.
In fact, the objective benefits of contraception have recently led the Pope to acknowledge that in certain circumstances, use of contraception could actually be a positive step toward genuine morality — he offers the example of an AIDS-infected male prostitute who prevents transmission to a client. These are non-ideal circumstances. But there you are. Contraception can occasionally be responsible.
Notice that the benefits of contraception don’t tell us anything definitive about the morality of contraception. None of the benefits above suddenly negate the Church’s position. The case for permitting contraception has been considered carefully and rejected. On certain sets of premises, contraception is fine; awesome, even. But on the premises we operate from — the one that the Church relies on — contraception is not fine, and that has to be okay. Providing guidance and even decision in the face of unclear or intractable moral problems is one of the Church’s most important roles. This isn’t a debate over whether contraception is good or not; it is fundamentally a debate over who gets to decide that. The Church has reached a decision after careful consideration and long dialogue, and the government ought to not force the Church or her institutions to provide contraception when the belief is that contraception is intrinsically immoral. The freedom of religious conscience must be preserved.