Q: Where does this error of thinking about marriage as “solely for the benefit of adults” come from?
A: Well, if you trace it back far enough, I’m convinced it comes from the contraceptive mentality.
The Church has always understood that the two ends of marriage are: first, the procreation and education of offspring and, second, the union of the man and the woman for the mutual good of the two spouses. They’re inseparable. The contraceptive mentality, however, attempts to separate those two.
When contraception became much more available and prevalent because of marketing, as well as technology in the ’60s, we began to see much more sexual promiscuity. With more promiscuity, you have more children born out of wedlock. Because contraception is not perfect — it misfires, so to speak — children are conceived, so now we need abortion as a backup. We also see a rise in divorce. This question and answer comes from an interview in the National Catholic Register last month with the Roman Catholic bishop of Oakland, Salvatore Cordileone. You won’t find a clearer outline of the premodern framework under which the Vatican I wing of the church is functioning.
Just look at what’s in this simple exchange.
1. focus on error
The two Roman Catholic churches, Vatican I and Vatican II, start from different places. Like their Protestant Fundamentalist counterparts, Vatican I oriented Catholics focus on authority and obedience. The Protestant Fundamentalists cherry pick the Old Testament for evidence of the fury of an angry God, rage about sin and wrongdoing and the punishment that is coming soon with the end times. Where they focus on scripture, the hardliner catholics focus on the magisterium, the teaching authority of a papacy-centered institution, where you’re either submissive and obedient or your soul is damned. Vatican II Catholics, like members of most mainstream protestant denominations, speak of Christian charity, concern themselves with community and pastoral care, and leave the judgments to God himself.
2. marriage as “solely for the benefit of adults”
Note the hidden slam against those who define marriage as a contract between two people who have determined to go through life committed to each other, in contrast to the church which insists sex is a bad thing unless one does it with the intention to procreate. In this black and white world, one chooses procreation or one chooses chastity. There is no place in between. 80% of catholics admit to practicing birth control, something which distresses Bishop Cordileone and others in the either/or Vatican I mindset. The rest of the modern world understands that one can have both sex and love, can see marriage as about adult partnership and about raising children, that there is no reason to surrender the joys of life because a pope says one ought to. Even within the church there was overwhelming opposition to the most recent encyclical on family planning, Humanae Vitae and every single one of the lay members of the pontifical birth control commission joined 172 American theologians and other Catholics in rejecting the encyclical as “outdated, inadequate and not binding on conscience." Cordileone is in the tiny minority on this issue.
3. contraceptive mentality
One would have to work pretty hard to come up with a sillier reduction of human rights to a "sex is naughty" mindset. One uses birth control to avoid having children. It’s not a mentality, it’s a way of having sex responsibly, of not bringing unwanted children into the world, of not forcing women into motherhood before they’re ready. If ever there was evidence that the decision to practice birth control ought to be in the population at large and not in the hands of a small bunch of closed-minded old men, this is it.
4. contraception became much more available and prevalent because of marketing
The longer this goes on the greater the inclination to laugh. Marketing? Marketing brought on birth control? Did the individual desire to avoid having children not play into this? Does Cordileone really think selling condoms is on the same plane as selling shiny fast automobiles?
5. promiscuity … abortion as a backup … a rise in divorce
– Promiscuity – sex is bad, you see
– Abortion as a backup? Backup? I’m not a woman, but it’s not that much of a stretch for me to imagine precious few, if any, women see abortion as a “backup.” This notion alone ought to disqualify Cordileone from speaking on the subject.
– As for a rise in divorce, we ought to remind ourselves here that all over the world there are women imprisoned in marriages and living without a voice. Cordileone would have us go back to a time when that was common in our societies, as well.If I wanted to see what the Middle Ages look like, I could get into a time machine and travel back to the 14th Century. Or I could get in my car, go down Telegraph to 52nd, get on the freeway for a mile or two, off at Harrison, and knock at the door at 2121. Hi there, Your Excellency. Would you mind showing me around?
But I suppose he’s busy. And I’ve got to take the dogs for a walk.
P.S. It will come as no surprise that Cordileone is one of the signers of the Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience. That puts him in bed with Charles Colson, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and other right-wing ideologues fighting against the rights of gays and lesbians to marry in the United States and urging civil disobedience of health care workers at hospitals where abortions are performed. You may remember that Apple had an app for the Manhattan Declaration on their iPhones, iPads and iTunes, which they removed when thousands protested it promoted bigotry and homophobia.
And, speaking of the two Catholic Churches... here's evidence of the same split among Protestants. A group known as the Progressive Christian Alliance has objected to the Manhattan Declaration. Cordileone's arguments are now spilling over into right-wing American politics. And the lines that once divided Protestants and Catholics have faded. Today the lines are between supporters, both religious and non-religious of enlightenment values including universal human rights on the one hand, and authoritarians, largely religious, both Catholic and Protestant, on the other.