Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Pope's Reaffirmation

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae ("On Human Life"), Pope Benedict XVI re-affirmed Pope Paul VI’s message laid out in that document.

While acknowledging that "The teaching laid out in the 'Humanae vitae' encyclical isn't easy," Benedict XVI went on to say;

"What was true yesterday remains true even today. 'The truth expressed in 'Humane vitae' doesn't change; on the contrary, in the light of new scientific discoveries it is ever more up to date.

"Forty years after its publication, that teaching not only shows itself to be unchanged in its truth, but it reveals the farsightedness with which the problem was tackled."

What does Humanae vitae teach?

1. Artificial birth control is banned. This means that young couples must give up all reliable methods of controlling the size of their families and thus the course of their lives. (The highly unreliable “rhythm method” is allowed, however.) I think of the constant fear of an unwanted pregnancy that was the norm for young people prior to “the pill.” The liberation from that fear and uncertainty engendered by birth control allowed young people to plan their futures with much more confidence. Think of what an end to artificial birth control would now do to young children starved for stimulative activities or teen-agers whose college plans would go up in smoke because of the financial burden forced on their parents’ by unplanned pregnancies.

2. Abortion is banned, even if the health and life of the mother is in danger. With very few exceptions, even today’s most ardent opponents of abortion make exception in this case (as well as in the cases of rape or incest). Yet, as Ayn Rand said at an address at The Ford Hall Forum in Boston in 1968, “After extolling the virtue of motherhood, as a woman’s highest duty, as her ‘eternal vocation,’ the encyclical attaches a special risk of death to the performance of that duty- an unnecessary death, in the presence of doctors forbidden to save her, as if a woman were only a screaming huddle of infected flesh who must not be permitted to imagine that she has the right to live” (From The Voice of Reason, page 58. Rand was referring to the Encyclical’s commandment that “the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded…” [emphasis added] ). And think of the victims of incest or rape who, having been violated in a most inhuman fashion, must then be denied the choice of terminating that pregnancy...their future thus being allowed to have been snatched away by a brutal act of violence.

3. Artificial conception is banned. Humanae vitae was written before such advances as invitro-fertilization became reality, but Benedict XVI has declared that the intent of Paul VI is clear…human intervention in the procreation process is forbidden even in this area. “[I]n the light of new scientific discoveries it [the encyclical] is ever more up to date," he said, referring to what he called “mechanical means”…i.e., invitro. I think of my granddaughter Kayla, a product of invitro fertilization, who would never have had a chance at life. I think of my daughter Susan and son-in-law Jerome… their dreams of having children crushed. I think of all of the other Kaylas, and of the children born to now-adult products of artificial (i.e., scientific) methods of procreation. I think of all of the humanity that would not be, courtesy of the "significant gesture of courage" of Paul VI. Invitro, you see, “offend[s] the dignity of life.”

What makes Pope Benedict’s comments significant is that these doctrines are not merely confined to the religious sphere, as the Church advocates their political (i.e., coercive) implementation on everyone, not just Catholics. States the Encyclical, “We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God.” (emphasis added)

The Catholic Church's position is brutally clear. It would force unwanted and unplanned children on some, deny children to others desperately wanting them, and sentence expectant mothers to unnecessary suffering and death. Why? No rational reason is given, just the usual cop-out that this is “God’s will.” The common denominator under attack by these three commandments is…the application of human intelligence to the problems of human procreation…the application of which the encyclical explicitly forbids. One must ask Benedict XVI; is not human intelligence part of man…the same man created by God? If so, then is it not “God’s will” for him to use it? Apparently not, in the Church’s view, which has previously opposed the advance of medical progress on many fronts, including the dissection of human corpses and the use of anesthesia.

On these and a whole host of issues, the Catholic Church is deeply split between the Vatican and the rank and file. My late uncle, for example, was threatened with ex-communication from the Church if he married my aunt, a divorcee. He married her anyway, and was indeed ex-communicated. This, despite his being a devout Catholic! The brutal doctrines of the Catholic Church are such that very few of its practitioners actually live by them…at least by my observation. Who can live by them?

Yet, the Pope speaks of defending “not only the true concept of life but above all, the dignity of the very person”!

The Catholic Church claims to be “pro-life.”

In fact, it clings to doctrines that are relics of the Dark Ages.


Christine said...

While there are many things about Catholic doctrine I disagree with, you have raised some very touchy points in regard to the "problems of procreation".

While I am not in favor of banning hormonal birth control methods, I think more information should be provided to patients about their abortive properties. You are also incorrect about the reliability of NFP (Natural Family Planning, or the "rhythm method"). Used correctly it has a very high reliability rate. It just happens to take more effort than popping a pill or getting a shot once a month. Taking charge of one's fertility in natural ways can be a successful and rewarding experience for a woman.

Ayn Rand has some extremely vicious things to say about children (just one example..."For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs." from “The Age of Mediocrity,”
The Objectivist Forum. As someone who chose not to have children, she can't know the true nature of the gift of parenthood. I understand the place from which you make your arguements, all in the name of individual rights, but the "rights of the unborn" are not just words spouted by crazy abortion-clinic-bombing radicals. The very technology you mention as coming from the intelligence of man (intelligence I believe is one of the many gifts given by God for us to use) is the same technology which makes viability younger and younger in preterm infants. Maybe in another 50 years, 25 weeks gestation (Maddy's age at birth) will no longer carry merely a 10% survival rate but a 75% survival rate and a 20-weeker will have a good chance at life. Where do you draw the line? What age fetus is OK to kill? What reasons are acceptable?

Must be signing off's late and I have 4 little rugrats who will need me in the morning. Love you, Dad!

Mike Zemack said...

Response to Christine:

"For such young people, pregnancy is a death sentence: parenthood would force them to give up their future, and condemn them to a life of hopeless drudgery, of slavery to a child’s physical and financial needs."

And that is exactly what it is, for a human being whose right to life is trampled by being forced to bring into the world an unwanted child. The sentence preceding the above quote adds needed context:

“The question of abortion involves much more than the termination of a pregnancy: it is a question of the entire life of the parents. As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility; it is an impossible responsibility for young people who are ambitious and struggling, but poor; particularly if they are intelligent and conscientious enough not to abandon their child on a doorstep nor to surrender it to adoption.”

Clearly, Rand’s aim is directed at the defense of individual rights, and not in any way against children.

The decision to have children is one of the most profoundly selfish decisions one can make, which requires an almost total intellectual, emotional, and financial commitment in the child-rearing years, and a continuing commitment in varying degrees thereafter. Far from being a vicious statement against children, the above quote is recognition of the supreme value of every child brought into this world. It says that every child has the right to a proper upbringing by loving, and willing, parents. It says that he has a right to be raised into adulthood with the ability to chart the course of his own life, independently, using all of the tools at his disposal including artificial birth control and, yes, abortion, which is moral in many circumstances. (The rhythm method is unreliable, and engenders unnecessary fear and romantic sacrifices). It must be remembered that “such young people” started out as the unborn.

“I understand the place from which you make your arguments, all in the name of individual rights…”

With due respect and love, Chris, I’m not sure that you do. Abortion is a very difficult subject, morally…at least for me. But the crucial point to understand here is that a right is a concept that applies to, and only to, actual living human beings, not potential human beings. This is not a callous statement, but a recognition of the facts of reality. A right is an attribute that is possessed by every human equally, and that places no unchosen positive obligation on another. Further, a right is something that a person possesses throughout his life. The idea that a person has a right (the rights of the unborn) that is automatically lost at birth is a contradiction, both of logic and of the facts of reality. Again, abortion is a very morally difficult issue, especially with regard to the latter stages of a pregnancy, and is a procedure that I abhor if approached under any but the most thoughtful circumstances. But the principle of inalienable individual rights is absolute. The rights of the mother reign supreme, and one who denies those rights cannot claim to be a defender of the “rights of the unborn.” The concept of “the rights of the unborn” implies an impossible conflict…that the rights of some supercede and negate the rights of others…an idea that in fact negates the very concept of inalienable rights.

The anti-child charge is an old one that has been leveled against Rand and Objectivism. In fact, Rand is one of the great champions of children by way of her advocacy of reason, rational egoism, and freedom. In essence, Objectivism holds that you have the right to live, to guiltlessly seek your own happiness, that your mind is your most valuable asset that can be relied upon to guide your life. What better, more positive legacy can you give to your child? Perhaps her greatest contribution to the life of the child is in the field of epistemology. That is a complex and difficult field which is the subject of one of her books. But her theories concerning the needs and proper development of the young mind, including the hierarchical nature of knowledge and abstract concepts, which in part builds on the work begun by Maria Montessori, may one day revolutionize education (it certainly needs it). This work alone belies the notion, despite the seemingly harsh rhetoric cited above, of Rand as disdainful if children.

Brief statements must not be viewed in isolation, but within the context of a full understanding of Objectivism.

That's enough for now.
Love you too, Chris.

Christine said...

Just two brief thoughts in response, since my time is understandably limited. Ayn Rand's preceding quote about adoption has me stumped. Does she mean that giving up a child for adoption (meaning that the child is wanted and loved, though not by the biological parent) is not intelligent and conscientious? I think that adoption, the choice to give life and a happy and loving home environment, is far better than killing the unborn baby. It also addresses the 3rd point in your post about parents who want a child but can't have one due to infertility. Why would Ayn Rand say that adoption is an unintelligent and unconscientious choice for a young person to make?

Secondly, as one who has fully researched and used NFP, I can tell you that it is not unreliable if used properly. Just as you must use any other method of birth control correctly to achieve top rates of success, so you must take seriously the method of NFP to get the best rate of success.

Mike Zemack said...

“Ayn Rand's preceding quote about adoption has me stumped. Does she mean that giving up a child for adoption (meaning that the child is wanted and loved, though not by the biological parent) is not intelligent and conscientious? I think that adoption, the choice to give life and a happy and loving home environment, is far better than killing the unborn baby.”

First, the premise that a fetus in the early stages of a pregnancy is a baby is a religious premise and is not consistent with the facts of reality. The unformed embryo is a potential baby. The first trimester (which, in essence, is at the heart of the abortion issue) is a high risk period. Many pregnancies can be and are aborted through involuntary miscarriage. Many miscarriages, in fact, occur before a mother even knows she’s pregnant. To equate the deliberate termination of a pregnancy at this stage with the killing of a baby is wrong.

As far as Rand’s adoption stance is concerned here, my guess is that it stems from the strong Objectivist position that personal responsibility and taking responsibility for one’s actions is a major virtue. The hypothetical “intelligent and conscientious” young woman is thus faced with the choice of canceling out her life’s plans to raise her child, or terminating the pregnancy rather than bring a child into the world. Given the stance that an early-stage pregnancy does not constitute a baby, carrying the fetus to term only to give the baby up for adoption would be irresponsible, since that wrenching decision could have been avoided.

There is nothing in the philosophy of Objectivism that would hold adoption to be inherently wrong, though. As a philosopher of reason, Rand would certainly, in my opinion, endorse an irresponsible or unstable young woman choosing adoption for her child. Further, she would not condemn any young woman who finds herself with an unwanted pregnancy choosing the path of having the baby and then giving it up for adoption, if that is her choice. And that is precisely the issue…it is her body, her life, and thus must be her uncoerced choice. A consistent advocate of individual rights can take no other position, in my opinion.