Brian J. Gail
The Pill and the debt
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By Brian J. Gail
August 15, 2009

It was probably a Freudian slip.

"The separation of procreation from sexual intercourse is the root cause of all sexual perversions." Sigmund Freud said that over 100 years ago. No one appeared to take much notice.

A fellow by the name of Montini said pretty much the same thing about 60 years later; this time the whole world took note. He was thoroughly excoriated. His problem was he was Pope at the time.

40 years ago, Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae, arguably the Catholic Church's most controversial papal encyclical in its 2000 year history. The day after it was released, a full-page ad ran in the New York Times denouncing it. It was signed by hundreds of influential American Catholics, including a number of priests and nuns. Today, an estimated 98% of all U.S. women of children-bearing age, Catholics included, are said to use some form of artificial contraception (see attached footnotes for all data).

The Pope was hardly breaking new ground at the time. The Church has always held that contraception is not in accord with the truth about the human person and the meaning of marriage. Nearly 40 years earlier, in 1930, Pius X issued Casti Connubii, which reaffirmed this church teaching — perhaps as a response to the Lambeth conference held earlier in the year at which time the Anglican Church famously broke ranks with what was then a near universally held belief.

Paul VI did push the envelope, however, in one regard; he got quite specific about the foreseeable consequences of the encyclical's widespread rejection. He identified four areas of concern. First, he said, widespread contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of morality." Well ... where to begin? How about with couples who cohabitate, contracept, and marry ... divorcing at a rate of 72%? How about over 50,000,000 U.S. men and women now suffering from incurable genital herpes? Or about 20,000,000 new cases of STD's (sexually transmitted diseases) now being reported each year?

He also said we could expect man to "lose respect for the woman," regarding her as little more than an "instrument of selfish enjoyment and no longer as his beloved companion ...." Women who use a hormonal contraceptive for a minimum of five years prior to their first full-term pregnancy are at a 50% higher risk of developing breast cancer ... and 200% more likely to contract cervical cancer. Only one in three couples now reach their 25th wedding anniversary; only one in five reach their 35th.

Thirdly, he said widespread acceptance of contraception would place a "dangerous weapon in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies...." Think Cairo Conference, where John Paul II had to enlist the support of Muslim nations to outmaneuver the Clinton administration (which wanted to tie foreign aid to forced contraception and abortion practices in third-world countries). Think Western Europe nations, whose birth rates have slipped below replacement level (2.1) and are now in danger of being "Islamicized" (see Sunday's NYT Magazine cover story). Think China, which now has nearly 20% more men than women under the age of 25 since launching their "one child" policy in the 80's. Let's be clear: no nation has ever confronted this kind of social problem; perhaps it will someday become the world's problem.

Finally, Paul VI warned that contraception would lead men and women to think they had "limitless dominion" over their own bodies and functions; he further suggested it would lead to life at both ends of the continuum being "endangered." Today, by age 45, at least one partner in every two U.S. marriages has been sterilized. Since 1973, nearly 50,000,000 of our children have been legally, and surgically, aborted in their mother's wombs (according to Family Planning Perspectives' data, the pill has a 48.4% failure rate among cohabitating teens). In Great Britain and Japan, scientists have announced their intention to clone a human being. Right-to-die laws exist in Oregon and, soon, California; it is expected more states will quickly follow.

Conventional wisdom holds that Humana Vitae failed to get a fair hearing either because it was a) "too little, too late," or b) a "thou shalt not" line in the sand addressed to a generation who only wished to hear 'yes.' Perhaps. More likely, it fell like a tree amidst the forest of faithful because its most poetic and prophetic language got lost in the controversy. It read, in part: "... this discipline (what today is commonly called Natural Family Planning) which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husbands and wives more fully develop their personalities; they experience the fruits of serenity and peace in their family life; it helps facilitate the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one's partner; it helps both parties drive out selfishness; it deepens their sense of responsibility; it facilitates a more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring. ..."

It also helps render marriage indissoluble. Reportedly, less than 1% of married couples who practice Natural Family Planning to space children ... divorce.

There is, however, another far less explored consequence of what is known as the "contraceptive mentality." That is its possible link to personal debt. Pope Benedict XVI once made a veiled reference to other causalities when he was the Cardinal Prefect for Doctrine of the Faith. He wrote: "When man is unable to traverse the great divide between what his technology permits him to do and what his heart tells him to do he becomes powerless to face the existential challenges of the age...." This loss of "moral energy" has consequences both material and spiritual and therefore, he argues, impacts culture.

In the final book of his trilogy on American culture — its religion, politics, and financial practices — author Kevin Phillips argues that excessive personal debt will prove the ultimate tipping point of American Empire. The title of the book is "Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism." In his treatise, Mr. Phillips makes no such case for a potential link between the Pill and debt, of course, but he does express grave concern over "rampant leveraged speculation" and its lead indicators in America's new "debt culture":

  • In 1950, U.S. manufacturing accounted for almost 30% of GDP and financial services 11%; by 2005, manufacturing's share of GDP had fallen to 12% and the new ubercategory of financial services (finance, insurance and real estate) had grown to over 20%; today, roughly 45% of all corporate profits in the U.S. come from the financial sector, only 10% come from the manufacturing sector. (This, Phillips argues, is largely a result of the financial elites' ability to "institutionalize runaway public and, mostly, private debt" in partnership with a silent but quite active federal government.)

  • When Alan Greenspan was elevated to the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve Board, all U.S. debt — public and private — totaled about $10 trillion; when he stepped down 20 years later, it totaled almost $45 trillion.

  • Of this $45 trillion, nearly 30%, or about $13 trillion, is "personal" or "household" debt.

  • Domestic financial debt as a percentage of U.S. GDP has quintupled — from about 20% to over 105% — in the past 25 years.

  • Already, in this decade alone, America's outstanding home mortgage debt has already doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion; this, while the country's current account deficit was also doubling from $420 billion to over $850 billion — which Phillips quotes one noted economist as suggesting is a "sword of Damocles hanging over the global economy."

Mr. Phillips proposes "Money is 'bad' when a leading world economic power passing its zenith — think Hapsburg Spain, maritime Dutch Republic, imperial Britain before World War I — lets itself luxuriate in finance at the expense of harvesting, manufacturing, or transporting things. Doing so has marked each nation's global decline." He cites "lax oversight" morphing into a kind of "financial mercantilism" on the part of the U.S. government, the "intertwined vulnerability" of America to foreign oil and its dollar to its own "institutionalized" debt, and the reckless, technology-enabled "financial innovations" of the 90's (mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, etc.) as a perfect storm blowing an unanchored America inexorably toward a day of reckoning.

Mr. Phillips sprinkles his text with words like "fraudulent," "unbridled" "immoral," "con" (as in job) and "deceptive." He also uses the word "aggressive" several times, and it is this word that arrests particular attention. He quotes a prominent investment broker as suggesting debt is the "crack cocaine" of the 60's generation. This of course is the generation that came of age just in time to embrace a new wonder drug called the Pill; to deploy it as a kind of safety net for the "sexual revolution" it was launching in the U.S. and exporting throughout the world.

John Paul II spent a lot of time with the children of the 60's generation. He challenged them to "be more" and not be content just to "have more." He said the problems of the present age were manmade and could therefore be solved by man. He proposed a blueprint based on received wisdom: the secret of living a productive life, he suggested, is best discovered in the difficult process of self-mastery. Only self-mastery permits self-donation; and only self-donation makes self-identity possible. It is only and always authentic self- identity which creates the essential conditions for peace — within individuals and within nations.

He cautioned young men to avoid making "objects" of others — particularly women who are "co-equal" and "full partners to men." He noted that "when man is aggressive toward woman it carries over into other areas of his life. He becomes ... 'aggressive' ... in pursuit of profit and in pursuit of power. In all this he begins to see others not as God created them but as he wishes them. He sees them not as "subjects" with an inviolable dignity created in the image and likeness of God but as "objects" which he believes he can manipulate for personal gain. This is most destructive to the man himself who by asserting self rather than donating self denies himself the truth of his own identity; and this is most ruinous — for individuals and for whole nations ...."

Perhaps the primordial gift bestowed by our Creator carries with it a "downside risk." Maybe the power to co-create, to populate the earth and the heavens, is subject to certain immutable laws ... with somewhat predictable "outcomes." Get the "law of the gift" right, a lot of other things pretty much fall into place; get it wrong ...

The fundamental societal problem, of course, with widespread use of both the Pill and leveraged debt in the same generations is this: they are incompatible. The larger the debt in one generation, the larger the succeeding generation must be to absorb it.

John Paul II was fond of saying we are living in an "Age of Divine Mercy."

Perhaps Humanae Vitae was its herald.

© Brian J. Gail

 

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Brian J. Gail

Brian J. Gail is a Knight of the Immaculate, a father of seven, a grandfather of five, a co-founder of three Catholic classical academies, a patent holder, and a highly sought-after speaker on matters of faith and family. He and his wife divide their time between homes in Villanova, Pennsylvania, and Jupiter Island, Florida... (more)

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