Based on the findings of a recent Gallup poll released on May 30, Americans are becoming more accepting of a number of controversial issues. At the top of Gallup’s list of 19 issues was contraception, of which 90% of Americans approve, followed by divorce at 69% and premarital sex at 66%. Others making the top ten were embryonic stem cell research (65%), childbirth outside of marriage (58%), same-sex unions (58%), euthanasia (52%) and abortion (42%).
These numbers shouldn’t surprise us; after all Americans have been steadily rejecting a Judeo-Christian morality in favor of secular relativism for decades. In the so-called sexual revolution of the late 1960s, sex was separated from the person — body and soul — and the human body became regarded as an instrument one could manipulate and even exploit for pleasure.
Of course, it goes back more than a few decades. As is often the case, what seems like a sudden explosion was really the logical outcome of hundreds of years of growing confusion about who we are as persons.
René Descartes (1596-1650) was a French scientist and philosopher who many credit with helping to launch what later became known, somewhat ironically, as “the Enlightenment.” Among his contributions to the way people thought was to place body and soul in opposition to each other, later leading to the idea that the human body could simply be seen as an object one could manipulate according to one’s desires. Simply put, you are your mind, and you have a body; as opposed to the traditional Christian view that you are both body and soul. In this, Descartes followed Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who believed that the goal of human knowledge should be to successfully achieve not stewardship of, but domination over, nature.
It’s telling that today this does not sound controversial to many people. It’s even difficult to see how radical this change was, but let’s put it this way: instead of beginning with the idea that we grasp reality through our senses and think about it, we would now begin with our own mind as the basis of knowledge and from there subjectively interpret reality.
Books are still being written about what became known in philosophy as mind/body dualism, a view that is rejected by the Church. This dualistic view is assumed by most today, even though most don’t realize it or see how it informs even their most basic assumptions about reality, and other people.
Okay, enough philosophy. Let’s look at how this affects our lives today with respect to our own bodies and relationships, the results of which are shouting at us from the Gallup poll.
The contraceptive mentality, so identified by the Church, is a perfect example of what happens when we embrace dualism. Notice how the promoters of contraception promise a consequence-free control over our lives if we could just control our fertility with their drugs and devices. All the pleasure, none of that inconvenient fertility. My body is not me, exactly, it is an object for me to control for whatever reason I want; so sex is just about my pleasure, maybe someone else’s too. It is not necessarily about giving myself to the one I love with the possibility of creating new life as a result of that gift.
Following this view, sex becomes a mindless, meaningless function for which I can use my body. The idea of myself as a unity of body and soul is gone. And with this ignorance follows the matching ignorance of the nature of human sexuality as a unity of our basic human gifts of fertility and bonding between spouses.
This is why the world was so angered by Humane Vitae, which arrived right in the middle of the sexual revolution. In Saint Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on human life, the Church clearly reaffirms the inseparability of the unitive and procreative meaning of the conjugal act. To employ contraception and embrace its mentality is to act contrary to the God-given purpose of spousal love between man and woman, which distorts other human relationships as well, exactly as the Holy Father predicted.
Many believe that Paul VI’s work in Humane Vitae was deeply influenced by that of the man who would become Pope Saint John Paul II. In Love and Responsibility, then-Archbishop Karol Wojtyla laid out the case for why the proper, integrated view of the human person as body and soul is necessary to understand ourselves and one another, especially in our sexuality: “In the order of love a man can remain true to the person only in so far as he is true to nature. If he does violence to nature, he also violates the person by making it an object of enjoyment rather than of love.”
To go against our true nature is to fracture our natural sense of responsibility towards another. Does anyone not see this happening today?
Obviously, seriously bad ideas have seriously bad consequences. Father Paul Marx, the founder or Human Life International, affirmed the Church’s point in his autobiography based on his broad experience in traveling the world:
Having traveled and worked in 91 countries, I find no country where contraception has not led to abortion, to increasing fornication among the young, to divorce, and to all those other evils we see today that make up the international sex mess.
And it is quite a mess, isn’t it? The Gallup poll should serve as a wake up call. If we are serious about strengthening the family, promoting the well-being of children, reversing the growing number of broken marriages in our nation, ending abortion, upholding the dignity of the aged and ill, and promoting purity and chastity, then let’s be honest about where the moral breakdown begins.