Thursday, 12 January 2012

Contraception, patriarchs and monks


Contraception and the Roman Catholic hierarchy

was my most commented post ever, and many of the comments were excellent.

One result has been to clarify my thoughts, as follows...


I while back I made the statement that from a Christian perspective men were - as a generalization, or 'ideal type' - supposed to be patriarchs or monks:

From the purely sexual perspective, this implies that most men are called to the sexual life within marriage; and if they are not then they are probably called to a life of monastic (institutional) celibacy.

So that men (in general) either live in their family, or else in the monastery - they do not live alone, therefore they do not practice sex outside marriage - and they do not practice celibacy outside the monastery.


In traditional societies, before about 1800 in Europe, sex within marriage led to large numbers of conceptions - maybe about ten?- of which an average of eight children died before reproducing (very approximate numbers, but the orders of magnitude are about right).

This was one of the greatest sorrows of life - the deaths of so many children, mostly from disease and starvation.


So, the usual situation in traditional societies is to have no contraception (because it hasn't been invented), unrestricted sexual activity, large numbers of children, and large rates of child mortality.

After about 1800, child mortality rates dropped a lot, so that more children survived childhood, and the population grew very quickly.

For the first time in history, it was possible - normal - for almost everybody (even the poorest) to have about ten children and probably more than half of them would survive to adulthood. This was possible because of the rising standard of living, and massive transfers of resources to poor families.

(Contra the story of communism/ socialism, the Industrial Revolution was a massively egalitarian phenomenon - the rich keeping-alive the babies of the poor in unprecedented numbers.) 

As modernity continued, contraception was invented in more versions and with greater availability, and first the upper classes, then the lower classes reduced their family size (until eventually it was less than two).


Anyway, the two basic realities of traditional society - and a society without contraception - are patriarchy with very large families for the majority, and communal celibacy for a minority.

The children of these very large families will nearly all die in traditional societies; but in post-Industrial Revolution societies all children who are born (to anyone) will be kept alive (at first by voluntary charity, nowadays by wholesale confiscation and transfer of resources).


This clarifies the argument concerning contraception.

1. Marriage is not the place for celibacy. As a general rule it is unacceptable.

2. Celibacy is not a solo lifestyle. As a general rule it is unacceptable.


3. Marriage without contraception (and without celibacy) leads to very large families.

What happens to the children?

In modern societies any unrestricted number of children who are born will be kept alive and brought-up at the expense of others - and their children, and so on.

In traditional societies, most or (for the poor) all of the children born will die of starvation, disease and neglect.


If this natural form of non-celibate marriage is pursued without regard for consequences (that is, by a system of ethics which focuses on the correct decision and ignores the consequences of that decision) then under post-industrial revolution conditions nearly all families will have (say) ten children, and these children will be sustained on welfare at the cost of the taxpayers (whether the tax payers like it or not).

(Because it is is now regarded as ethically non-negotiable in the West that all children who are born must be kept alive - and their children - by coercive extraction of resources from the community with no limit or restriction on the numbers of children and no limit or restriction on the volume of coercive resource extraction.)

Since this is obviously a road to chaos and cultural collapse it seems that the RC Church cannot (or is not) ignoring the consequences of 'natural' marriage, perhaps it finds these consequences unacceptable.


This means that Roman Catholic married couples who are required both to avoid reliable contraception and to avoid huge families are being asked to do something generally unacceptable - to combine the disparate paths of marriage and celibacy.

(And it means that many Roman Catholic secular Priests/ Parish Priests - who currently live alone and outwith monastic or other orders - are being required to live a life that, in basic human terms, is generally unacceptable.)

In other words, the ethical problems which swirl around contraception, including the arbitrary division between natural and artificial methods, are a result of compromises. 

The compromises are trying to achieve the end result of moderately sized families, when the natural result of no-contraception and a non-celibate marriage is to have very large numbers of children. 


It trying to be 'as natural as possible' and yet to avoid the consequences of very large families (the consequences either being vast child mortality rates, or - as at present - vast coercive extraction of welfare; the RC Church seems to have reached a compromise between principle and practicality - by advocating 'natural' contraception it is not following strict principles, it is not ignoring consequences. 

Neither is this teaching being strictly honest, in my opinion - because, by pretending to be based on principle,  it is not being clear about the probable consequences of these principles; and yet its teaching does take into account consequences.  

The result is itself a compromise - as is the current Roman Catholic demand for a high degree of celibacy within marriage a compromise - because it is required in order to avoid very large families and to avoid the use of artificial contraception. 

(Which is the only reliable type of contraception) . 


What will happen? On present trends, those religions who pursue principle without regard for consequences will carry the day - because (under modern conditions) these will have very large numbers of children who will all be kept alive and raised at the expense of everybody else. 

The two basic long term possibilities are unrestricted fertility and huge numbers of births or celibacy. Medium sized families require compromise of principles - and the use of contraception: and contraception is contraception - whether it is called 'natural' or artificial it is still contraception, because there is nothing 'natural' about contraception.