HUMANAE VITAE: THE BEAUTIFUL TRUTH ABOUT MARRIAGE, SEX, AND THE FAMILY
PART 2: A PROPHECY FULFILLED
Fifty years ago this month, Pope Paul VI issued a prophetic document celebrating the beauty of marriage, sex, and the family lived within God’s plan for human beings and warning of the dangers that would come from contradicting that plan, particularly through the widespread use of artificial contraception: conjugal infidelity; a decline in morality; the objectification of women; the abuse of power by governments over marriage and the family; and unlimited domination of the human body by arbitrary human will (Humanae vitae 17). Re-examining the document with eyes enlightened by five decades of hindsight, we can see today just how forward-thinking Humanae vitae really was.
Consider the rise of marital infidelity. While it is impossible to get an accurate measure of such secretive behavior, we can track the breakdown of marriages and families. The divorce rate in the U.S. spiked precipitously in the late 1960’s, peaking in the early 1980’s, after which it dipped slightly and has since held fairly steady at a rate far higher than in 1968 (Jeremy Greenwood and Nezih Gunar, “Marriage and Divorce Since World War II,” at nber.org).
Paul VI also warned that a contraceptive culture would lead to a decline in morality and the objectification of women. To see if this is true, look at the 10 Commandments. Regarding the first three commandments, religiosity has declined significantly since the 1960’s (Tobin Grant, “The Great Decline: 60 years of religion in one graph,” at religionnews.com). We’ve already seen the decline of marriage and the family (the fourth commandment), but the same time period has also seen the rise of legalized murder (the fifth commandment) in the form of abortion. In 1968, less than 20% of countries had legalized abortion; today over 50% have, and a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion (Elizabeth Boyle, et al., “Abortion Liberalization and World Society: 1960-2009,” at ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). These fifty years have also seen the explosion of the pornography industry (the sixth commandment), with over 40% of Americans today stating that pornograpy is morally acceptable and pornographic websites receiving more traffic each month than Netflix, Amazon.com, and Twitter combined. As for the objectification of women, almost 90% of leading pornographic videos depict either physical or verbal aggression against women, and studies show that consumers of pornography are more likely to condone violence against women (Pornography statistics at enough.org).
Regarding Paul VI’s warning that governments would abuse their power by encouraging or requiring
contraception, one need only look at China’s one-child policy, beginning in 1979, which severely punished families for having more than one child, or India’s forced sterilization of over six million men in 1975. Even in our own country we see examples, such as the distribution of free contraception at high schools, without parental consent, or the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that health insurance plans include all approved forms of female contraception, even if the person seeking insurance does not want it included, or state laws requiring pro-life crisis pregnancy centers to advertise for the abortion industry.
Finally, what about Paul VI’s warning that a contraceptive culture would lead to unlimited domination of the human body by arbitrary human will? Consider the emergence of the market for human embryos, new human life created in a lab that is treated like a commodity to be bought and sold for anything from in vitro fertilization to scientific research, and, when the new human beings that have been created are no longer needed, they are locked away in a freezer or simply destroyed. And most recently, we see the new gender ideology, which insists that gender is not an integral, God-given aspect of our being, determined by our chromosomes, but is merely a social construct to be cast off and replaced, with hormone treatments and disfiguring surgeries, by whatever suits a person’s personal preferences, an ideology that is fast becoming mandatory doctrine at some schools and universities.
We need to be careful not to confuse correlation with causality; just because different things are related doesn’t mean that one necessarily causes the other. But the fact that the advent of widespread artificial contraception and the rise of the social ills that Paul VI warned about are related cannot be denied, nor can it be dismissed as a coincidence. Sadly, the Holy Father’s warning went ignored fifty years ago, but that does not have to be our destiny. We can choose differently by recovering and witnessing to the beautiful truth about marriage, sex, and the family, which Paul VI celebrated in Humanae vitae , and which we will look at in next week’s column.
Fr. Marc Stockton
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