This installment in our series on how various religions view a childfree lifestyle focuses on Catholicism.
It is well known that the Catholic Church staunchly supports and encourages procreation. The question is “why?” The Catholic position is
that contraception is intrinsically wrong because it is in conflict with God’s laws, one of which is that the purpose of sex is procreation. The pleasure and intimacy that comes with the sex act is a gift from God, and should not stand in the way of the natural outcome which is conception.
So, what Catholicism believes is that God’s law underlies the mandate to bear as many children as is naturally potential. The Church uses scripture, Apostolic Tradition (lineage of Church Fathers such as Hippolytus of Rome), and human experience as evidence that contraception is unacceptable. Biblically speaking, coitus interruptus was misused by Onan of the Old Testament when he was directed by Judah to impregnate the widow of his deceased brother. Onan spilled his seed instead of helping his sister-in-law bear a child. This displeased God so intensely that He slew Onan. Yet, the rhythm method, by which a couple engages in copulation during the woman’s menses, is somehow kosher.
Regarding the evidence of human experience, Pope Paul VI predicted widespread infidelity due to the increased use of contraceptives, and the Church sees this prediction as having come to fruition in the 1960s with the advent of “free love” and the escalated divorce rate.
In this day and age, though, when scientists and environmentalists are questioning how Earth can sustain 7 billion people, Catholicism insists that procreation is a religious “must.” Does the Catholic Church care about the environmental degradation caused by (more than) enough of us? Well, yes and no.
Pope John Paul II wrote in The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, that respect for nature is inextricably related to respect of
“the human person.” He called for Christians to cherish and protect the environment, because it is through nature that one can contemplate the greatness of God.
In 1971, Pope Paul VI said “Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature, he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of his degradation.” He went on to say that human intervention brings about serious consequences to the balance of nature and this affects the “entire human family.”
The Catholic Church has voiced concern about ecological problems for many years, and even given credence to population size impacting resources as well as the environment. In the words of Pope Paul VI from his Population Progressio: “it is not to be denied that accelerated demographic increases too frequently add difficulties to plans for development because the population is increased more rapidly than available resources.” Still, Catholicism doesn’t see a solution in curbing the making of more children.
Here is a telling quote from the present pope, Benedict XVI: “The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures only if he
keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Otherwise, he will come to despise himself and his surroundings, and to disrespect the environment . . . . For this reason, the first ecology to be defended is human ecology. This is to say that without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family; . . . without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society …we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment.”
So, human life is at the soul of the Church’s social teaching. The right to life overrides attempts to limit population by contraception, even if there are too many billions of us and Mother Earth is pretty tired of keeping us suckling at her teat. Pope John Paul II sums it up clearly: “protecting the environment is first of all the right to live and the protection of life.”
Recent studies show the Catholic Church’s influence on fertility has changed, which means fewer children for Catholics (compared with Protestants), and extensive use of contraception. Even so, the powerful words of the Church still ring throughout the cathedral. Based on the 1991 statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Renewing the Earth, this was the takeaway message and is the ultimate Catholic truth now concerning procreation: “The womb is the most endangered human environment in the world today. The right to life precedes and underlies every other social and environmental issue.”
In Chapter 2 of our ebook Enough of Us (soon to be published in print), entitled “Why we Reproduce,” we discuss divine mandates and philosophic religious directives to preserve the earth.
What’s your opinion?