Friday, September 28, 2012

The Vindication of Humanae Vitae

by Mary Eberstadt

"Perhaps the most mocked of Humanae Vitae’s predictions was its claim that separating sex from procreation would deform relations between the sexes and “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” Today, when advertisements for sex scream from every billboard and webpage, and every teen idol is sooner or later revealed topless or worse online, some might wonder what further proof could possibly be offered.

But to leave matters there would be to miss something important. The critical point is, one might say, not so much the proof as the pudding it’s in. And it would be hard to get more ironic than having these particular predictions of Humanae Vitaevindicated by perhaps the most unlikely—to say nothing of unwilling—witness of all: modern feminism.

Yet that is exactly what has happened since 1968. From Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer on up through Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, feminist literature has been a remarkably consistent and uninterrupted cacophony of grievance, recrimination, and sexual discontent. In that forty-year record, we find, as nowhere else, personal testimony of what the sexual revolution has done to womankind.

Consider just what we have been told by the endless books on the topic over the years. If feminists married and had children, they lamented it. If they failed to marry or have children, they lamented that, too. If they worked outside the home and also tended their children, they complained about how hard that was. If they worked outside the home and didn’t tend their children, they excoriated anyone who thought they should. And running through all this literature is a more or less constant invective about the unreliability and disrespect of men.

The signature metaphors of feminism say everything we need to know about how happy liberation has been making these women: the suburban home as concentration camp, men as rapists, children as intolerable burdens, fetuses as parasites, and so on. These are the sounds of liberation? Even the vaunted right to abortion, both claimed and exercised at extraordinary rates, did not seem to mitigate the misery of millions of these women after the sexual revolution.

Coming full circle, feminist and Vanity Fair contributor Leslie Bennetts recently published a book urging women to protect themselves financially and otherwise from dependence on men, including from men deserting them later in life. Mothers cannot afford to stay home with their children, she argues, because they cannot trust their men not to leave them. (One of her subjects calls desertion and divorce “the slaughter of the lambs.”) Like-minded feminist Linda Hirschman penned a ferocious and widely read manifesto in 2005 urging, among other bitter “solutions,” that women protect themselves by adopting—in effect—a voluntary one-child policy. (She argued that a second child often necessitates a move to the suburbs, which puts the office and work-friendly conveniences further away).

Beneath all the pathos, the subtext remains the same: Woman’s chief adversary is Unreliable Man, who does not understand her sexual and romantic needs and who walks off time and again at the first sashay of a younger thing. What are all these but the generic cries of a woman who thinks that men are “disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium” and “no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection”?

Perhaps the most compelling case made for traditional marriage lately was not on the cover of, say, Catholic World Report but in the devoutly secular Atlantic. The 2008 article “Marry Him!” by Lori Gottlieb—a single mother who conceived her only child with donor sperm rather than miss out on motherhood as she has on marriage—is a frank and excruciatingly personal look into some of the sexual revolution’s lonelier venues, including the creation of children by anonymous or absent sperm donors, the utter corrosiveness of taking a consumerist approach to romance, and the miserable effects of advancing age on one’s sexual marketability.

Gottlieb writes as one who played by all the feminist rules, only to realize too late that she’d been had. Beneath the zippy language, the article runs on an engine of mourning. Admitting how much she covets the husbands of her friends, if only for the wistful relief of having someone else help with the childcare, Gottlieb advises: “Those of us who choose not to settle in hopes of finding a soul mate later are almost like teenagers who believe they’re invulnerable to dying in a drunk-driving accident. We lose sight of our mortality. We forget that we, too, will age and become less alluring. And even if some men do find us engaging, and they’re ready to have a family, they’ll likely decide to marry someone younger with whom they can have their own biological children. Which is all the more reason to settle before settling is no longer an option.”

To these and other examples of how feminist-minded writers have become inadvertent witnesses for the prosecution of the sexual revolution, we might add recent public reflection on the Pill’s bastard child, ubiquitous pornography.

“The onslaught of porn,” one social observer wrote, “is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.” And perhaps most shocking of all, this—which with just a little tweaking could easily have appeared inHumanae Vitae itself: “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.”

This was not some religious antiquarian. It was Naomi Wolf—Third Wave feminist and author of such works as The Beauty Myth and Promiscuities, which are apparently dedicated to proving that women can tomcat, too. Yet she is now just one of many out there giving testimony, unconscious though it may be, to some of the funny things that happened after the Pill freed everybody from sexual slavery once and for all.

That there is no auxiliary literature of grievance for men—who, for the most part, just don’t seem to feel they have as much to grieve about in this new world order—is something else that Humanae Vitae and a few other retrograde types saw coming in the wake of the revolution. As the saying goes, and as many people did not stop to ask at the time, cui bono? Forty years later, the evidence is in. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver observed on Humanae Vitae’s thirtieth anniversary in 1998, “Contraception has released males—to a historically unprecedented degree—from responsibility for their sexual aggression.” Will any feminist who by 2008 disagrees with that statement please stand up?"

If you have not read the entire article, you must do so HERE 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Meaningless and Repetitious Prayer

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:7 “When you are praying do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do for they suppose they will be heard for their many words.”

All Catholics should be familiar with this verse; it is thrown at them by anti-Catholics frequently enough for all of us to have heard it close to one million times. And, I daresay, some Catholics are guilty of praying vainly and repetitiously, thinking that if they merely say the words they are praying. I remember being younger, sitting restless in my pew, Rosary in hand, mouthing the words along with everyone else as I remembered the movie that I had seen the night before. The Rosary! The height of Catholic repetitious prayer! Taking at most twenty-minutes to say and consisting of fifty-three Hail Marys (among other prayers), is it any wonder it seems mind-numbingly repetitive to those non-Catholics who don’t understand it? No, it isn’t. But, to those of us who understand it, it is not repetitious at all, and it is far from meaningless. So, the question is, “What is the Rosary?”

For years too many to count, monks and religious would pray the 150 Psalms of the Bible as part of their daily prayer. Many of the common folk would have imitated this pious practice and prayer; however, they could not read. Therefore, something had to be offered them which they could pray. The answer? The Paternoster Beads, as they came to be known as: 150 Our Fathers, divided into fifties, and kept track of by counting pebbles into a bowl or knots onto a string. Time passed, and a parallel Psalter came about: the Marian Psalter, prayed with the “Hail Mary” instead of the “Our Father”. Saint Dominic was a great promoter of the Marian Psalter. While in France fighting against the Albigensian heresy, he would preach the life and death of Jesus Christ while simultaneously praying the Marian Psalter. It is said that Mary appeared to Dominic during his missionary work and told him to continue praying her Psalter while meditating upon the life of her Son. Over time, the 150 Hail Mary prayers were divided into three sets of fifty, and each set was divided into five decades. Specific points in Christ’s life and death came to be meditated upon. They came to be known as the “Sorrowful Mysteries,” the “Joyful Mysteries,” and the “Glorious Mysteries”—each group consisting of five points in Christ’s life, and so one mystery for each decade. These three sets of Mysteries were officially approved by Pope Pius V in 1569. In October 2002, Pope John Paul II added another set of Mysteries—the “Luminous Mysteries”—therefore bringing the number of decades up to twenty. Hence was born the Rosary as we know it today.

Why is all this important? One must remember that Catholics do not merely say the Rosary. Catholics pray the Rosary. It is not meaningless utterance of myriad Hail Marys! Rather, the Rosary is a continued meditation of the Life and Death of Jesus Christ. While one is saying the Hail Mary, they are (or should be) simultaneously remembering every moment in Jesus’ life that his mother cherished, as mothers will do. The meditation is not meaningless. The Gospels themselves are a meditation on the life and death of Christ!
Is the Rosary repetitious? When one considers the twenty different points of Christ’s life and death and the myriad aspects of each upon which one dwells during the meditation, the Rosary is hardly repetitious! Look at Matthew 6:7 again, “as the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their many words.” Catholics do not put the worth of the Rosary on how long it is or how many words they say. Catholics do not pray as the Gentiles did. And, if one insists on having a problem with the fact that the Hail Mary is prayed multiple times, they must remember: for something to be repetitious, it need only be said twice. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed three times to be delivered from death. “And going away again, he prayed, saying the same words.” Mark 14:39 tells us. If saying the same words again and again constitute repetitious prayer, then Jesus prayed repetitious prayer.

For more info on the Rosary and its history, go HERE.

On the Impossibility of Sola Scriptura

I’ve heard many times, here and elsewhere, Protestants advising Catholics to “read the Bible.” They speak of it as though it is that simple. They don’t seem to understand that language is not simple. Every time you see a letter, your brain ascribes to it a sound; to every combination of letters, a meaning; and to every combination of words, another meaning. It is a long process and there are many variables. In considering just how complicated this is, I am reminded of a sentence I came across just this morning:

“For the Christian life is full of meaning.”

When I first came across it, I read:

“For the Christian life is full of meaning.”

In other words, I understood it as saying that only a Christian life has meaning, as opposed to any other type of life. Reflecting on it later, I realized that it was probably supposed to read:

“For the Christian, life is full of meaning.”

Which reading implies that Christians view life as meaningful, while atheists, for instance, may not. The word “Christian” can be taken as a noun or an adjective, the sentence as a degrading fact or a hopeful view. The sentence seems simple, but the interpretations are radically different. Also take for an example the sentence “I did not steal it.” If you read it “I did not steal it,” you imply that someone else stole it. If you read it “I did not steal it,” then you imply that you borrowed it. And if you read it “I did not steal it,” then you imply that you stole something else. Even the simplest sentences are not so simple when it comes to interpreting them. When it comes to the Bible, the sentences you are reading are infallible. However, your interpretation is not. The second you read something, you cannot help but interpret it. So, the second you read the Bible, you introduce fallibility to the equation.

“But I have the Holy Spirit to guide me!” these Protestants cry in response. Yet nowhere in the Bible was the Holy Spirit promised to individual persons for their private edification. Rather, the Apostles were sent to educate. They did not hand the people Bibles and say “You believe now. The Spirit will guide you. You don’t need me!” Paul certainly did not think the people had a Spirit to interpret Scripture when he wrote so many letters to them correcting them! Furthermore, one wonders, if every faith filled and good willed person has the Spirit to guide them, why do Protestants not agree? There are millions of Protestants and thousands of denominations, each believing something different. They all love Jesus. By their criterion, they should all be led by the Spirit. However, they are contradicting each other. We can thus come to two conclusions:
1) The Holy Ghost actually is inspiring them all, but is telling some one thing and some another, giving them contradictions and falsehoods.
2) The Holy Ghost isn’t actually leading them all.

The first is not possible. Therefore, the second must be so, and that leads to a disturbing question. Who is really being led by the Spirit? Is it I, who doesn’t believe in infant Baptism, or that Methodist who does? Is it I, who believes in the Trinity, or that Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t? You do not know. You can never know. Protestants put so much stake on the Bible, but with their view of Sola Scripture they have rendered the entire Holy Book null and void, because they have no way of being sure they understand what they are reading. Hopefully, some will realize this and ask—as did the eunuch in Acts—“How can I understand if no one instructs me?”

Another disturbing aspect of Sola Scriptura is that the Catholic Church compiled the Bible. There is no argument here. The fact of the matter is, there was no established canon in the early centuries. Some books like Revelation were accepted in some places and rejected in others. Some books like The Gospel of the Hebrews were accepted in some places and rejected in others. This is fact. Also fact, is that when it came time to remedy the “What is Scripture?” question, Bishops threw out books like the Gospel of Saint Peter for no other reason than that it was being used to contradict their pre-established beliefs. Protestants readily admit that the Catholics had their canon wrong in including Maccabees, Tobit, Sirach, etc. Five hundred years ago, they introduced to the world a canon contrary to every other canon before it. If Catholics had it wrong in including some books, what is to say they did not have it wrong in excluding others? Protestants must go back and find the books that Catholics threw out, and see if those actually do belong in the Bible just as Maccabees did not.

This leaves the idea of "Sola Scriptura" in a sorry state indeed.  For by this idea, one cannot be certain if they even have "the Bible," much less if they are reading it correctly.  Needless to say, I won't be converting very soon.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Value of Motherhood & Children

It was Margaret Sanger's birthday a few days ago, so she inevitably ended up on my facebook home page.  Thus, in honor of the event (and in response to the facebook comments), I decided to read a bit of her work.  While reading THIS, I came across a very surprising quote.  After waxing eloquent on the harships of poverty and disease upon women, children, fathers, and society in general, Sanger ended with, 

"Shall [woman in general] say to society that she will go on multiplying the misery that she herself has endured? Shall she go on breeding children who can only suffer and die? Rather, shall she not say that until society puts a higher value upon motherhood she will not be a mother? Shall she not sacrifice her mother instinct for the common good and say that until children are held as something better than commodities upon the labor market, she will bear no more? Shall she not give up her desire for even a small family, and say to society that until the world is made fit for children to live in, she will have no children at all?" (emphasis is mine)

It sounds so very ennobling, which makes the irony all that more poignant.  If Margaret Sanger did truly care about impoverished and unhealthy women, her vision for a better world has failed miserably. 

Margaret Sanger did little in her life to actually alleviate poverty.  She basically said that, "You are poor, you are diseased, and life sucks for you.  At least it doesn't have to suck for the kids you don't have!"  Her idea of helping those children already born into poverty was to kill them, as she so succintly stated when she said that, "The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it."

Artificial Contraception has not helped our society to value motherhood.  One need only go to a few comment pages on blogs about birth control, the HHS mandate...or anywhere, see this.  Both women and men freak out at the mere idea of getting pregnant and having children.  I once had a discussion with a guy who called children "little leaches" and was thankful that his girlfriend was naturally sterile.  More mild stances go along the lines of: "We decided not to have children because we discovered we were happy without them."  One Mom was told that she was greedy to want more than two children.  I know many mothers of "large" families who have been considered crazy for having more than one or two my aunt who, upon walking through the store with her four children, was accosted by a woman who asked, "Are they all yours?" and, upon receiving an affirmative answer, said sincerely, "I am so sorry".  Perhaps the most telling recent example is this familiar piece internet rhetoric:

The very idea of motherhood is likened to drowning!

I think that it is safe to say that motherhood is not valued highly in our society.  Women (and men) are not being self-sacrificing.  They have not sacrificed their mothering instincts, their love of mothers and children, for the sake of some noble statement and higher good.  They have smothered these "instincts".  They are happy without them.  The "common good" has become the personal good.  Children are more of a commodity than they have ever been; commodities and children are things to be had when you want them and discarded when you don't.  And that is just the contraceptive (and abortive) mentality. Sanger did nothing to right the wrongs she saw in the world.  She has, if anything, made them worse.  Those who praise her for allowing and feeding society's lack of value for motherhood and children misunderstand her efforts.  Those who agree with her assessment of poverty and disease had best find a better who actually saw problems and decided to fix them.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A College Student's Prayer

When you go to a secular school of higher learning, you are bound to run into more than a few professors and/or students who think they know everything about the Catholic Church, from history, to doctrine, to finances, to all those evil pedophile priests.  Ana has kindly provided all us unfortunate college Catholics with a lovely little prayer....

College Student's Prayer:Lord, grant me the wisdom to keep my mouth shut when it wouldn't do any good to open it, the courage to speak up when the words won't fall on deaf ears, and the patience to wait until after class to laugh at a professor's ignorance. But above all, please help me to remember Your own words: "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." Amen.

May it help us all when we are tempted to become depressed and/or spout something uncharitably snarky.