Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chesterton on Contraception

I saw this commercial posted on Thomas Peter's blog The American Papist, and I couldn't help but think that some day, God willing, this commercial will be played on shows trying to explain to future generations how our society could have actually allowed contraception to have ever existed. This commercial will take its rightful place alongside the grainy Nazi Youth program commercials that we always see on shows that attempt to answer the question "How in the world could anyone have ever allowed Nazi Germany to do what it did?"

The commercial reminded me of one of my favorite essays. It is written, of course, by Mr. G.K. Chesterton, a saintly and very popular man from our own era (he wrote during the World Wars). I include his essay here because I think it is one of the best pieces of writing I've ever encountered.

Babies and Distributism

I hope it is not a secret arrogance to say that I do not think I am exceptionally arrogant; or if I were, my religion would prevent me from being proud of my pride. Nevertheless, for those of such a philosophy, there is a very terrible temptation to intellectual pride, in the welter of wordy and worthless philosophies that surround us today. Yet there are not many things that move me to anything like a personal contempt. I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification. I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs. But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt. And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control.

I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word. It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning. The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control. It cannot for instance, determine sex, or even make any selection in the style of the pseudo-science of Eugenics. Normal people can only act so as to produce birth; and these people can only act so as to prevent birth. But these people know perfectly well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines, or proclaimed on platforms, or scattered in advertisements like any other quack medicine. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. Therefore they use a conventional and unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous.

Second, I despise Birth-Control because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly thing. It is not even a step along the muddy road they call Eugenics; it is a flat refusal to take the first and most obvious step along the road of Eugenics. Once grant that their philosophy is right, and their course of action is obvious; and they dare not take it; they dare not even declare it. If there is no authority in things which Christendom has called moral, because their origins were mystical, then they are clearly free to ignore all the difference between animals and men; and treat men as we treat animals. They need not palter with the stale and timid compromise and convention called Birth-Control. Nobody applies it to the cat. The obvious course for Eugenists is to act towards babies as they act towards kittens. Let all the babies be born; and then let us drown those we do not like. I cannot see any objection to it; except the moral or mystical sort of objection that we advance against Birth-Prevention. And that would be real and even reasonable Eugenics; for we could then select the best, or at least the healthiest, and sacrifice what are called the unfit. By the weak compromise of Birth-Prevention, we are very probably sacrificing the fit and only producing the unfit. The births we prevent may be the births of the best and most beautiful children; those we allow, the weakest or worst. Indeed, it is probable; for the habit discourages the early parentage of young and vigorous people; and lets them put off the experience to later years, mostly from mercenary motives. Until I see a real pioneer and progressive leader coming out with a good, bold, scientific programme for drowning babies, I will not join the movement.

But there is a third reason for my contempt, much deeper and therefore more difficult to express; in which is rooted all my reasons for being anything I am or attempt to be; and above all, for being a Distributist. Perhaps the nearest to a description of it is to say this: that my contempt boils over into bad behaviour when I hear the common suggestion that a birth is avoided because people want to be "free" to go to the cinema or buy a gramophone or a loud-speaker. What makes me want to walk over such people like doormats is that they use the word "free." By every act of that sort they chain themselves to the most servile and mechanical system yet tolerated by men. The cinema is a machine for unrolling certain regular patterns called pictures; expressing the most vulgar millionaires' notion of the taste of the most vulgar millions. The gramophone is a machine for recording such tunes as certain shops and other organisations choose to sell. The wireless is better; but even that is marked by the modern mark of all three; the impotence of the receptive party. The amateur cannot challenge the actor; the householder will find it vain to go and shout into the gramophone; the mob cannot pelt the modern speaker, especially when he is a loud-speaker. It is all a central mechanism giving out to men exactly what their masters think they should have.

Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom. He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. They can feel that any amusement he gives (which is often considerable) really comes from him and from them and from nobody else. He has been born without the intervention of any master or lord. He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation. He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines. When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world. People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved. They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life. They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation. It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.


  1. Thank you Father for continuing to offer this blog in order to further our faith. While I can agree that when my husband and I find ourselves watching a birth control pill comercial on TV like the one above, we find ourselves offended. Yet ever since we started using NFP we have found ourselves in an odd situation with in our culture and our church. We have 3 young children and our non-cathlolic friends could not believe that we stepped away from artificial contraception. Many of them took bets on when we would be having our 4th child. We have medical reason's for avoiding children at this time and therefore are doing so, but in a sense we feel a need to prove to our friends that we can make NFP work. Within our Catholic community we have been shocked at the number of fellow church goers that know so very little about NFP. The bottom line is that many catholics know that birth control is wrong, but teaching others to choose, learn and practice NFP is a huge undertaking. I hope that my children's generation is the generation that learns and understands the teachings of the theology of the body as they enter adulthood. My husband and I certainly now feel this responsibilty as we are learning the benefits of this choice in our marriage.

  2. Laura, thanks for your testimony! I can only imagine how difficult it is to live this out. My only experience is through talking with people like yourself who are trying to do what the Church teaches, but I'm sure living it is a whole different ball game.

    I think we have a long way to go on the topic because so many have avoided it from the pulpit because it is always easier to say what people want to hear. We have a lot to do in this area, but I know priests are starting to heed the call to preach the truth precisely because priests are encountering people who are really and truly suffering because of contraception and sterilization and so forth. Pray for myself and our priests!

  3. Father,

    You don't sound arrogant- you sound crazy.

    I can assure you I (and the hundreds of thousands of women in my situation) am not suffering when I take my birth control medicine. In fact it helps to control(not eliminate)the severe pain and discomfort from ovarian and uterine cysts that I experience.

    Based on the dark ages mentality expressed in this post, it is not a giant leap to suggest my medical condition is clearly a punishment from God for taking birth control in the first place. You may not make that leap, but others in the Catholic church do.

    Furthermore- I have zero guilt on my conscience for taking birth control.

    I am shocked by this post. Shocked.

  4. If it's sad to see a commercial like the one you posted above, then it might be a little pick-me-up to see the one if you take the following link (at least if you accept the wisdom of the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality):

  5. Zero guilt...speaks of a cold heart. I was there once. I lied to myself. I was once cold like that. If you are Catholic and grow deeper and deeper to the Lord you will gain an awareness that what you are doing is distancing yourself from God and His love and the grace that comes from the sacraments. Let Him be in charge. Anything that it life in the womb or not, will bring peace knowing you are giving Him control. Only God is the Author of Life. I was once in this ugly place, and I will pray for you.

  6. anonymous - the essay is from G.K. Chesterton not me so Chesterton is the one talking about arrogance.

    With regards to the pill and the dark ages etc. I can only say that a good friend of mine, Dr. Maria Bajuyo, is an NFP doctor whose practice is exploding and she speaks all over the state about contraception. She said she's only prescribed birth control pills once - the rest of her cases were treatable in other ways. I am not a doctor, but many doctors tell me that the Church's teaching on this topic (which actually goes back way further than the dark ages) is not only sound morality but is sound medicine.

  7. If you have to take the pill for health reasons (after exhausting all options) please be careful. The pill increases the risk of some cancers and blood clots. It also has a back-up feature that will prevent implantation after conception (in the event that a woman forgets a pill or it fails due to any medication that could weaken the effect.) I don't think many women know that.

    Fear led me away from God at one time. I too had some health issues that made pregnancy dangerous and I was defensive. But once I truly put my faith in God's ability to take care of me, I found true freedom and peace. I hope you do too.

    Father Hollowell, thank you for speaking the truth at the pulpit! It would be easier to avoid the conflict, but we really need to hear and understand.

  8. Bless you, Father, for speaking the TRUTH!

    Napro Technology provides reproductive care that adheres to Church teachings. More and more doctors are learning this technolody.