Contraception and the Loss of Responsibility

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Mary Eberstadt located the cause of many of our current social problems with the sexual revolution, in a speech at Notre Dame University:

“To discern the record of the last half-century is to see that the Catholic Church was right to stand as a sign of contradiction to the devastation the sexual revolution would wreak; that accommodating to the revolution has been an epic fail for the churches that have tried it; and that the truths of Humanae Vitaeand related documents burn all the more brightly against the shadowy toll of the destruction out there.”

“Be proud in the right way of your Church for getting one of the most important calls in history right,” Eberstadt encouraged. “And never let anyone put a kick-me sign on you for being an unapologetic Catholic.”

These are encouraging words to hear, given trends that we see here in the Northeast, which are roiling even Catholic campuses.  (See “Complete Coverage” box below.)

When it comes to Eberstadt’s analysis, the only thing I’d add is that she stops short of the underlying mechanism.  Contraception’s role in our deteriorating society is not merely that it allows people to engage in the sexual activity toward which they are driven; one could argue that marriage does so, as well, with some concessions.  The problem with contraception is that it moves responsibility away from the adults; if a pregnancy results, it is the fault of a thing, not the responsibility of the two people engaging in intimate activity.

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This brings us to something like the innocence of the Garden of Eden, as I presented it a few years ago in an essay about property rights and responsibility.  Basically, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they lost their innocence most profoundly in the sense that they would have to work to live and take responsibility for their actions.  Childbirth, for example, would no longer be simply a natural process for which God would provide the resources; it would be a painful process for the woman and an added burden of responsibility to both parents.

If we’re relying on neither God nor ourselves to take responsibility, we’re putting our faith in either a thing or a person.  If it’s a thing, that makes us irresponsible.  If it’s other people, that makes us slaves.  This conclusion doesn’t require our society to become overtly Catholic, or even more generally Christian, but we have to recognize the foundational challenges of social change if we’re to mitigate the consequences.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    Without doubt, “the pill” removed the chief penalty for causal sex and altered our mores. While they have almost disappeared from the language, I understand “shotgun marriages” and “had to get married” were commonplace. I have never seen this correlated with divorce (also a no-no before the 70’s), but statistically there does seem to have been a lot of divorce in the 70’s and early 80’s.

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