Tuesday, July 19, 2016

"Leave the Door Open" or Birth Control?

Historians are puzzled by the extremely low rate of birth in some Quaker communities in New England in the late 1700's. They speculate and ponder on whether this was a natural occurrence, or because of stringent abstinence or a method of very successful birth control.

With all the current tragedies, controversies, disasters, and debates centering in the news, we seldom hear any more of the ethical question of birth control, except from the creedal wing of Christianity, the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

But, historically, and now in the news again, birth control has been a huge controversy.

After the American Revolution, "it seems clear that Quakers had begun to practice some kind of family limitation involving birth control. Such planning did not occur in the generation before 1730..."

"The questions of how and why Quakers began to practice birth control cannot be answered with any certainty."
The Quaker Family in Colonial America by J. William Frost

"Quakers on the whole remained conservative on matters of sexual ethics until the early part of the 20th Century."

"The first open discussion of sexuality by Quakers came in 1924, when a group of British Friends published, "Marriage and Parenthood: The Problem of Birth Control."

"This pamphlet advocated a qualified use of family planning and opposed the idea that the use of contraceptive devices promoted promiscuity."

from The voice of Whittier College:

"Access to Birth Control Is a Right"

"In the U.S., 68 percent of women who are at risk for pregnancy use a form of contraception. However, the use of birth control by women is still often stigmatized. People who are against the use of birth control argue that it promotes sexual behavior in young women."

"First of all, so what if it does? What’s wrong with that? If women choose to have sex, it’s no one’s business."

"Birth control should be easily accessible so that if they do choose to have sex, they can do so without worrying about the risk of pregnancy."
by Quaker Campus

Quakers don't have a collective view on the rightness or wrongness of contraception. Many Quakers do use artificial methods of birth control."

Officially, Catholics leaders still claim that artificial control of the birth of children is morally wrong--
that it is interfering with the natural order, playing God, and contrary to the will of God.

A loving couple ought to welcome as many children as God gives them.

What is intriguing, shall we say shocking, however, is that most Catholics, in contrast to other issues, don't obey this teaching of the Church. 86% of Catholics in the U.S. view artificial birth control as acceptable! That's only slightly behind the 90% of all respondents.

But who then are the 10% rejectors of the "all"?

Probably conservative Mormons and fundamentalists such as the "Quiver-full" movement; both also oppose birth control and emphasize large families as the direct blessing and will of God.

And in contrast, even Roman Catholic leaders at times seem to bend their own rules, or at least their natural law rhetoric.

For instance, the current controversial Pope, St. Francis, said that couples don't have to breed "like rabbits."

On the other hand, many Protestant leaders before the 1960's, also, opposed birth control. An anti-birth control article was published in the Baptist Standard.

One Christian leader, William Bell Riley, called birth control a "menace to humanity." "When the primeval lust of the beast is the basis of union, the divorce mill is sure of its grist," he warned.

Presbyterian Professor James O. Buswell told ministers "not to practice birth control." James M. Gray, President of Moody Bible Institute, also, opposed artificial control.

Moderate Baptist J.C. Massee stated, "Pleasure without children is legalized concubinage" and a "blight."

The infamous Bob Jones Sr., president of Bob Jones University, (which refused to admit "colored" students for many years) condemned, "husbands who hellishly limit the size of their families because they are too damnably mean and selfish to raise children."
Selling the Old Time Religion by Douglas Carl Abrams, University of Georgia Press

"Being pro-life...its about opening ourselves to the risk and mess and uncertainty that accompany any God-sent guest we allow into our lives. The least we can do is leave our doors unlocked."
Agnieska Tennant, an Editor of Christianity Today

And, some leaders still associate birth control with abortionist Margaret Sanger. Professor Albert Molher of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote we have "unwittingly aided and abetted that moral revolution by an unreflective and unfaithful embrace of the contraceptive revolution."
Religion News Service

Molher has stated, "I do indeed believe that the development of the Pill 'has done more to reorder human life than any event since Adam and Eve ate the apple'...sex, sexuality, and reproduction are so central to human life, to marriage, and to the future of humanity."

"The Pill turned pregnancy — and thus children — into elective choices, rather than natural gifts of the marital union. But then again, the marital union was itself weakened by the Pill, because the avoidance of pregnancy facilitated adultery and other forms of non-marital sex."

"In some hands, the Pill became a human pesticide."

Since these views are all from religious conservatives, many might think that the whole issue of birth control is only a medieval hold-over.

However, it so happens that the famous atheist psychiatrist Eric Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis, emphasized in his book Sex in Human Loving that openness to procreativity in sexual relations is best. Dr. Berne states that his reasoning is biological.

Contradictorily, some current secular thinkers think that a woman getting pregnant is to be infested, having a "parasite' living in her.
(More later on this shockingly negative, almost nihilistic, view of pregnancy).

Professor Peter Singer supports infanticide, as sometimes moral.

He argues that born infants aren't persons and thus may be killed if the parents choose to do so!

According to this modern ethicist, a professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, some animals have more value than human infants.

So, see like in many ethical topics, humans' attitudes and outlooks toward birth control are very different.

What do you to say about birth control and sexuality and children?

What is your perspective on these very important ethical topics?


My own view is experiential, not especially theological or philosophical.

On both sides of our extended family in the past, the parents having more than a limited number of children seemed to lead to favoritism and neglect of at least one child. I don't think that had to be, but at least it occurs fairly frequently in large families.

When parents are hardworking, and they have a number of children, it seems that not all of their kids can get an equal amount of quality time, attention, and guidance.

Yes, I know there are famous families who claim this doesn't have to be so.

But consider that in one such well-known poster family, the Duggers, where everything was supposed to be wonderful and sacred, it turned out that the happy facade actually hid deep troubles.

How or why one of their older teens could end up molesting his younger sisters isn't clear.

But probably such a large family made unethical actions easier to commit and to hide.

In contrast, recently, I took an elderly woman to the doctor who has 16 children, 48 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren. At 82 years of age, she is still a bundle of joyful energy, said she enjoyed everyone of her children.

It would be insightful if one could interview all of her children and see if they agree. But no doubt there are many happy large families, besides our own example of not.

In my own case, having 3 children while working 60-70 hours a week in my career as a teacher, I found it difficult to give to give each of my children time and interaction.

One of them points out now, that when that he/she desperately needed my time, I was too busy. I deeply regret failing that child.

If I hadn't subscribed to birth control, how could I possibly have been there for 6 or 8 or 10 children?

That's the practical, very real, very important quality point for why birth control is so important--it opens the door for a deep meaningful relationship with each child.

Another hugely important value in this topic is that restricting pregnancies gives a woman better health, longer life, and more time to develop her own talents and interests. A quick review of history will show how no birth control often had disastrous and deadly results for women of the past.

Theological and philosophical questions and reflections will have to wait for a later article.

To be continued--

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

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