on contraception

Jason Peters has a very interesting post on C.S. Lewis, the environment, and the relationship between generations up at Front Porch Republic.  What leapt out at me, though, was this passage from Lewis on contraception:

[T]here is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. . . . All long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

I suppose I don’t understand the concern with contraception in the same way as many others do.  I have my own doubts – and these are largely biological, that we are meddling overmuch with our natural composition (something I worry about with all kinds of drugs, treatments, etc.) – but the detriment to future generations seems a bit off.  Isn’t choosing celibacy (as priests do) a similar case of an exercise of power vis a vis breeding?  And isn’t there a case to be made that contraception prevents abortion and unwanted pregnancy?  Maybe I’m simply not theologically savvy enough to understand the Catholic arguments against fully.  Thoughts?

Please do be so kind as to share this post.
Share

14 thoughts on “on contraception

  1. Isn’t choosing celibacy (as priests do) a similar case of an exercise of power vis a vis breeding?

    That was my first reaction as well. I suspect that the standard defense of Lewis’ point would be that marital intercourse is the natural state of things, with which contraception interferes, and that we should interpret his views on contraception as referring to its use in marriage.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  2. I love Lewis, but I think this is pretty nutty. Future generations do not “exist” in any meaningful sense. They have, if you will, no standing to claim the “right” to exist. Either they will exist, or they will not. They are not “men” in the same way that actual, living, deciding people are, and I disagree with the equivalence.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  3. “Maybe I’m simply not theologically savvy enough to understand the Catholic arguments against fully.”

    I don’t think it’s a question of whether you’re savvy–it’s more what you’re capable of doing with the word “power.” Celibacy and contraception don’t seem to have much to do with each other. In terms of power, it might be better to attack chastity and natural family planning as effectively contraceptive rather than clerical celibacy.

    But you have to understand–and this is in response to Dan Summers as well–that Catholicism, especially, does believe that future generations have a kind of existence and that this existence is very much at issue in the sexual act (to assume that this detracts from the “physical” is to assume the poverty of the human imagination) . Even nonCatholics have such existence in view–for example, secular progressives generally have future generations in view when they espouse certain policies. You also don’t have to read too far into Bacevich’s Limits of Power to understand a different kind of generational power-relationship. Neither view is really equivalence.

    Is an analysis of history and generation based on contraceptive behavior objectionable because it seems more metaphysical than other kinds of analyses? It seems to me that it is, in fact, less metaphysical, less prone to equivalence.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  4. Good points, Tony. And I do understand this – I understand the need to be stewards of the earth and civilization for our future generations. But I suppose what I don’t see is that – say my wife and I plan on having three kids. We go about this by either using contraception or by “being careful” or however you want to look at it. We end up having three kids. (well, we don’t, we have only one now, but you get the drift…) How have we effected a future generation. If one way or another we planned only on having three kids; we never have an abortion; what is it about contraception that has changed the scenario in any meaningful way?

    That being said, I still don’t particularly like medical contraception (pills, IUD’s, etc.). It has side-effects that seem unnatural.

      Quote  Link

    Report

    • “How have we effected a future generation? . . . what is it about contraception that has changed the scenario in any meaningful way?”

      I can’t really answer either question, partly because it depends upon what is acceptable as “meaningful,” but maybe more because it seems incapable of prosaic articulation (to the question, “how have we affected a future generation,” I would want to say, with Frost, “elves . . . but it isn’t elves exactly”). It certainly has a lot to do with what you recognize as the problematic conflict of contraceptive pills with that which is “natural” (which also has an effect on the natural body politic–the “contraceptive mentality”). That recognition is part of the care with which you attempt to live in the world, but it is also, for some, a kind of stepping-stone toward a (possible) full meaning of sex and procreation (which, as Mike points out, includes the Catholic prohibition of the “spilling of seed”).

        Quote  Link

      Report

        • If we’re considering future generations in the way I mean here, then no. At least, the “them” you refer to is only a subset of “future generations.”

          Of course, it can “be said.” But saying it has nothing to do with the recognition that there is something fundamentally wrong with contraception. If the issue is interpreted as a matter of necessity, it is only because “we” are, as a public, willing to accept certain kinds of destruction of what it means to be human. But that’s just another way of making present the fool’s bargain with history that the “Americanist heresy” has already made.

            Quote  Link

          Report

  5. E.D. I may misunderstand your question, so if so, please ignore my reply…

    Theologically speaking Catholics believe it is a sin to ‘waste one’s seed’ in a sex act that does not at least have the possibility of pregnancy. Some take that rule very seriosuly. When I was growing up my church had at least 10 families with 8 or more kids.

      Quote  Link

    Report

  6. This is one of those cases where the past is another country.

    We read Lewis’s paragraph from a world where sex has been divorced from reproduction for our entire lives.

    Keep in mind that, as he was writing that, he was writing it from a position where sex meant that pregnancy followed and the idea that one could, with 99.5% efficiency, prevent pregnancy was one that had yet to have its unintended consequences even scratched.

      Quote  Link

    Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *