Contraception and Common Sense

Opponents of contraception face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, not the least of which is their position’s antagonism toward today’s common sense view of sexual morality.  Opposition toward contraception is not common; acceptance of it as a personal and social good is. A few voices cry out in the wilderness, but they are just that: a few, and, by today’s standards, uncivilized.

It would be a mistake to conclude that contraception is a moral good because common sense says it is.  A casual glance at history should be sufficient to observe that a morality held in common may be a corrupt and perverse morality.  It would also be a mistake to conclude that the present common morality is corrupt because it radically differs from a past commonly-held moral sense, or that the past sense was perverse because it doesn’t cohere with the common sense of our progressive age.  The morality of an act is not determined by its being held in common as a moral good.  Common sense is a guide, not a dictator.

And yet it is a guide and not without moral weight.  Opponents of contraception cannot easily dismiss its judgments or wave them away as products of a perverse age.  The proposition that today’s common sense view of sexual morality is perverse requires careful demonstration.  Noting the correlation between widespread use of contraceptives with other social ills does not suffice.  Even if one could prove a causal relationship between common acceptance of contraception and, say, the rise of cohabitation, one would still have to show that this growing acceptance of cohabitation is also a sign of corruption.

For all the changes in sexual mores, our society has not become morally nihilistic or relativistic.  Common sense may no longer reserve sex for married couples and for the primary purpose of procreation, but it retains a set of values, virtues, and responsibilities related to sexual behavior.  The accessibility and use of contraceptives are considered good precisely because they accord with the commonly understood meaning and morality of human sexuality.

So contraception’s opponents, such as the Roman Catholic Church, have a long road ahead of the them.  Their conflict is not with a blatantly corrupt ideology, nor is it with moral nihilism or relativism; their contention is with a rationally-coherent, commonly-held moral sense.

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a contributor to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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18 Responses

  1. Michael Drew says:

    Very well-stated, Kyle.

  2. Tod Kelly says:

    Can I just say I love that picture?

  3. Tom Van Dyke says:

    Kyle, the Catholic argument goes like this—

    Teresa Tomeo [author of Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture]:

    “The truth of Church teachings is proven right over and over again in the natural law. Theology of the Body expert Christopher West says, “The truth of Church teaching is proven in the pain of those who reject it.” All we need to do is look at the continual breakdown in society to know that the Church teachings are spot on. If what the world is selling is so wonderful, why is there so much misery attached to it? For example, if we were meant to jump from relationship to relationship, then why do we see so many problems attached to sexual promiscuity — namely, extremely high rates of sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional turmoil that comes from this type of existence? This is just one example of why the Church is worth being a part of and defending. What the Church teaches not only offers what’s best for Catholics but what is best for all of humanity.”

    Not that you don’t know the Catholic argument, Kyle. 😉

    But it’s more that the Catholic way is the best way, and the happiest way for man. One can make this case without moralizing, that is, condemning as intrinsically immoral that which conflicts with the natural law.

    The natural law argument itself claims that violating it is bad for man, and carries its own consequences beyond human or divine condemnation or punishment. “The truth of Church teaching is proven in the pain of those who reject it.”

    Which means that conforming to the natural law is good for you, is best for you. It’s a cleaner and a more loving argument.

    • Will H. says:

      I think the mention of the church at the end detracts from an otherwise well-written article.
      It’s one thing for man to evolve in his senses and societal views, and quite another to hold God accountable to the standards of man.
      It doesn’t fit.
      I think it would be more equitable to consider the place of the church in further evolution of the senses and societal views of man.

      Some good nuggets in there, and I like it.

    • b-psycho says:

      Who is arguing that promiscuity has anything to do with how humans are “meant” to live?

      I strongly doubt most promiscuous folks do so as expression of their idea of How Mankind Must Operate. Unless you count “I like to fish” as an ethos.

    • Kyle Cupp says:

      Oh, Tom. My dear Tom. You did not bring Christopher West into this thread. That’s 30 points from Gryffindor .

      Anyhow, yes, I know well the Catholic arguments against contraception, and I think the church’s position make sense if one accepts certain premises about the meaning and morality of human sexuality. But those premises are among what common sense today denies. It also denies that the Catholic way is really the better way to human happiness. Such denial easy to do for any side, of course, because how do you measure and compare happiness while accounting for all relevant variables?

      Human experience reveals that a life of virtue results in happiness, pending no disasters. Aristotle made a solid case for that. Today both common sense and the voices in the wilderness promote virtue, to some extent and in some form or another, but they disagree on whether the use of contraception is “virtuous.”

      So, as I said, a long road.

      • Tom Van Dyke says:

        Kyle, what I was getting at was the church’s argument that the Theology of the Body is the way to greater happiness, an affirmative argument, rather than the negative argument, condemnation of contraception as “sin,” etc.

        I doubt most non-Catholics—or even Catholics—are aware that the Church’s argument is essentially affirmative, not a humbug on the Joy of Sex.

        As for Christopher West, clearly I’m not up on the Inside Baseball of this. I just read the ideas, so I miss a lot of the players and politics.

        • Kimmi says:

          What gets me, from a Jewish perspective, is exactly how Hidebound the Catholic Church is.
          Sure, Jews believe in a “be fruitful and multiply” (and there are rules attached to that, if you’re Orthodox)… But it’s hardly as impractical as the Church’s idea… In Judaism, your duty is to have at least two children (for a two parent household), and it’s a good deed to have more.

  4. Rodak says:

    “I doubt most non-Catholics—or even Catholics—are aware that the Church’s argument is essentially affirmative, not a humbug on the Joy of Sex.”

    In the sense that “ignorance is bliss,” perhaps. The problem is that there is nothing “natural” about so-called “natural law.” Natural law is a product of the data-poor musings of an ancient, pagan philosopher, which if universally adopted as s.o.p. would quickly result in disaster for mankind and the entire planet.
    Why is it not a violation of “natural law” to disrupt the teleology of, say, the small-pox virus by instituting vaccination campaigns against it? The small pox virus was made by God as an integral part of His plan and is, therefore, a Good thing, correct? That some of us–who are not with the program–may see it as a Bad thing is clearly a short-sighted error on our part. Yet neither the Church, or–so far anyway–Rick Santorum, rail against this War of Small Pox. Why is that?

  5. Will Truman says:

    Since Trackback apparently isn’t working, click.

  6. Sam says:

    “This is just one example of why the Church is worth being a part of and defending. What the Church teaches not only offers what’s best for Catholics but what is best for all of humanity.”

    I’m not sure I’d translate the rampant sexual molestation of children as being what is best for all of humanity, but that’s me and my godless moral calculus talking. The notion of the Catholic Church lecturing anybody about appropriate moral behavior is ludicrous at best and offensive at worst.