I tend to think of the encyclical Humanae Vitae (which I’ve never finished reading) as all about the evils of artificial contraception. That’s a blind spot.
Carl Trueman points to its prediction of the moral and social chaos sexual revolution would leave in its wake, and to contemporaneous commentary by Dietrich von Hildebrand that entails “a moving account of human love and a critique of a society that reduces love to sex and sentiment.”
In this volume, von Hildebrand clearly draws upon earlier arguments from his 1927 book In Defense of Purity: Love is ecstatic and joyful, transcending rational analysis. Von Hildebrand’s key text is Song of Songs, the biblical poem that captures the mystery, power, longing, and exuberance of erotic love. Much conservative Protestant writing on marriage typically neglects the Song for a prosaic, patriarchal focus on male authority and female submission. Those tempted by such a drab view of love ought to read von Hildebrand, for whom passion, mystery, and ecstasy all play their biblical parts.
Still, the part of Humanae Vitae that leaves me leery is the insistence that every marital act instantiate both the unitive and procreative purposes of sex. I’m willing to admit mistakes in how I’ve lived my life (my blogs are not my confessional, but I’ll not deny here what I confess there), but I’m not conscience-wracked — even now, when I know so much more about the Christian tradition on contraception than I knew then — that my wife and I tooks steps to prevent pregnancy during our first year of marriage so she could complete her college degree.
Granted, the same contraceptive technologies, by Supreme Court decisions of half a century or so ago, must be available to fornicators and adulterers as well as married couples, but to put it in reductionist terms that the encyclical presumably avoids, is delaying or spacing pregnancy in marriage a slippery slope to all the evils of the sexual revolution?
Apart from the possibility that I’ve thought more about that than most people, my response lacks any authority, but here goes: that’s not my lived experience.
Alan Jacobs, who doesn’t write all that much about matters political, musing on two heads of state, the U.S. and the Vatican:
Norms are created by institutions, and we live in an age of weak and despised institutions. This is how populist leaders arise: when a great many people believe that institutions exist merely to serve themselves, they come to despise not just those institutions but also the norms associated with them, and applaud leaders who scorn and seek to tear down the whole edifice. And if those leaders make their disdain known in sufficiently charismatic ways, few will notice when they are guilty of the very sins they decry.
He’s not expecting either The Donald or Pope Francis to be “forced out” or to change course.
So why do we get the vapors so badly when news breaks?
The big social-media companies function as what I have called the Ministry of Amnesia, and the result is that we lack temporal bandwidth. Unless we work hard to cultivate that temporal bandwidth, we won’t have the “personal density” to resist the amnesia-producing forces that make us think that whatever happens today is more important than anything that has ever happened.
Increasingly, I think, the people who rule our society understand how all this works, and no one understands it better than Donald Trump …
[T]he greatest of social changes tend to happen, as Edward Gibbon put it, insensibly. Even when they seem sudden, it is almost always case that the suddenness is merely a very long gradual transformation finally bearing fruit. There’s a famous moment in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises when one character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” the man replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” But the “suddenly” happened because he was previously insensible to the “gradually.” Likewise, events are always appearing to us with extreme suddenness — but only because we are so amnesiac that we have failed to discern the long slow gradual forces that made this moment inevitable.
Alan Jacobs again, elsewhere. Do read it all. There’s a payoff.
Jeffrey Bilbro, Learning to Distinguish between Demonic and Redemptive Technologies, at Front Porch Republic responds to a Christianity Today essay that tends to reduces Agribiz to “genetic seed modification and GPS-guided harvesters,” ignoring assaults with on crops and earthy by chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Bilbro’s most important contribution, it seems to me, is a not-too-vicious debunking of what the CT author seems to think is the only alternative to Agribiz in the manner Monsanto pursues, and some allusive hints we may just be cruising gradually toward sudden calamity.
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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.