My friend, the inestimable Robert George, likes to ask his college students how many of them, if they lived in the South before the Civil War, would have opposed slavery. They all raise their hands. “Bless their hearts,” says he, and then he advises them what their opposition would have cost them: ridicule from the most visible political and intellectual leaders of their society; slander of their motives; incomprehension at best from their families; loss of employment; loneliness; and scant gratitude from the people they aimed to help.
Nor is it clear how they could form a moral position running athwart so much of what they must have taken for granted from the time they were born. That too would require something akin to self-surgery without anesthesia: to tear some feature of your errant culture out of your flesh, down to the roots with all their spikes and barbs. Nor will you take up that scalpel on your own initiative alone. You have to embrace an authority over against what everybody knows, what everybody says, what everybody does; and this authority must do more than recommend. It must command, even in the face of suffering, doubt, and failure.
Ah, the daydreams of self-congratulating man!
. . .
We don’t get to choose the public evil of the society into which we are born. Some of us, if we remain true to Christ, will be called by that public evil to endure the martyrdom of blood. So did the innocent and fiercely loyal Carmelite nuns in Paris, as they ascended to the guillotine during that great secular heaving-up of madness, cruelty, vainglory, blasphemy, and lust.
Others will be called to make a far less terrible sacrifice. What is the public evil of our time? What single “good” will cost you the most, through public ridicule or persecution, if you reject it and act accordingly?
Holier than Them
The pill, like all drugs, carries risks, and it is a drug that no one needs to take, for there are other methods of birth control that do not involve taking drugs. Indeed, there is one method of birth control that is completely natural and has no side effects at all, that immediately springs to the Catholic mind: natural family planning (NFP) and the Billings Method in particular; there are also various gadgets on the market which claim to predict the fertile period accurately, such as this one. Of course, as the article in the Guardian implies, hormonal contraception is something undertaken by women for the convenience of men. NFP is a joint enterprise by the couple, and requires sacrifices from men, not just women.
. . .
But perhaps more importantly still, we need to re-evaluate the myth of progress. It has been many decades since the publication of Humanae Vitae, which was scorned as a retrograde step at he time, but with the passing of the years now seems more truly progressive, more prophetic, than ever.
The pill and the modern myth of progression. It has been many decades since the publication of Humanae Vitae, but it seems more prophetic than ever