Contraception and the Culture War
Published on: February 22, 2012
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  • Jbird

    Nice, measured writeup of the issue. thanks. The issue doesn’t end at only religious freedom though. One commentator, Mark Steyn pointed out that the legislation gives the power to the HHS Sec. to define care down to “tooth level surveillance” (actual wording). Is it possible for government to become more intrusive than “tooth level”?

    as an aside the Neuhaus-Colson document was about as popular around my Reformed household as NT Wright’s “New Perspectives on Paul”, which is to say, not very. If I wanted to be Roman Catholic, I’d go join the Roman Catholic Church. However, there are many social issues all Christians and indeed other religions like Islam can work together on. Abortion, family issues, etc being chief examples. This is probably why so many American Muslims were actually republicans before the 2nd war in Iraq. And why the Hispanic voting bloc is not necessarily locked into the Democrat party.

  • Jbird

    as followup, should the government decide that insurance should cover female circumcision would there be the same condemnation of those who objected because they found it morally repugnant? If the government can mandate coverage for morning after pills why couldn’t they mandate coverage of cliterectomies?

  • Dan

    I agree with Jbird’s second post about govt-mandated coverage of procedures considered morally repugnant by some. That’s why Berger is way off the mark when he characterizes the Obama “compromise” as principled and pragmatic rather than a paternalistic curbing of religious freedoms.

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  • Kohl Haas

    This puts women in the category of government-financed playgrounds. Sort of like the National Parks except they are mobile. Does that mean a tax-paying male can demand sex from any of them, any time, on demand? “If I pay, I want to play”.
    Next we can have the government pay for toothpaste and mouth wash?

    What privileges will women taxpayers get?

  • Rockerbabe

    Culture wars, the war against women. . .why is it that “culture” always seem to mean subsugation of women and their interest? If one wants to change the culture, maybe men should take a long look in the mirror.

    Most crime, 85% or so is committed by men, so says the FBI. Most incidents of domestic violence is male against female; 90% of all rapes are men against women. Most of this country’s money goes for the things men want; military might and the overwhelming desire to use it at all cost, sporting events that may or may not include women; sport’s magazines that feature scantily clade women, who have no self-respect. The notion that calling males “ladies” is well, what it is, degratory.

    Most drug uses and sellers are men; most aronist are men, the vast majority of serial murders are men, althought not all of their victims are female.

    It is as though the religious leaders haven’t come into the 21st century. They still think of women as property, instead of people with rights. After all, they speak about us as if we are not in the room; deaf if you will. Property doesn’t respond back, property doesn’t have right, wants, needs or desires and may not even have a history. Property is disposable upon the whim of the owner. I guess the males in the church really do think we are property. What a joke; property with the right to vote, own property of its own, work and earn money. Maybe someday, women will stop supporting these men and their disrespectful attitudes towards women.

  • Very good.

    I asssume you are referring to the Manhattan Declaration in 2009. It proved demanding for those in evangelical circles who subscribed to it for all sorts of theological reasons that became the point of principle for those who did not. But at the end of the day, it was as you infer a political rallying point against increasingly aggressive secularism. In fact Albert Mohler after the aevent and his signtaure to it has had second thoughts I believe, much to my surprise. Still, I have not and whilst I can understand the theological I did not find them persuasive enough. As an evangelical and a conservative Bible believing one at that,(whatever that means, at elats I know what I mean by that) am grateful to many Catholics and their stands.

  • Jbird

    #6 Rockerbabe: Put down your copy of the “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Because someone thinks you should pay for your own birth control, they see women as property? What are you talking about?

  • Rockerbabe

    #8 Jbird: I have read the Handmaid’s Tale, but never thought it would be a reality for women or at least a possible reality.

    If one carries your thinking outward, maybe YOU should pay for your own diabetes meds, cancer treatments, Viagra, smoking cessation treatment and if you find yourself badly hurt as the result of drinking while driving, boating, skiing, etc, then maybe YOU should pay for your own care, instead of asking me and my insurance pool to cover your needs. I find reckless behavior offensive and morally unacceptable.

    As for women being property, well that is the history of women and still is for billions of women around the world. Here in the good old USA, women are being told often by GOP men, that their healthcare needs are not healthcare? That their concerns are not serious or of concern to them. That anyone who thinks contraception is wrong, should be able to discriminate against women, it seem for any reason. So what attitudes have changed?

    Women as property – owners do not have to consider the wants, needs, desire, future, fears of property and can do what they want with property. The church does this on a regular basis. The clergy talk about women and women’s healthcare needs as if they understand what its all about. . .these old celibate men with their ancient ideas about women, haven’t a clue as to what it is all about, but that doesn’t stop them from preaching to the choir, while women parishioners “zone out” and go about their business once church services are over. Just because women are “not in your face” doesn’t mean we agree with what is being said, done and implemented.

    All of this “war on women” will have its consequences in November as women “property” has the right to vote and support whatever campaign we like.

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  • Pat Samson

    As a Catholic, I am offended by the discussion about birth control and the president. Most Catholics accept birth control and know that a papal commission back in 1966 supported Catholic use of birth control and the pope overwrote their decision.

    Catholics are pro-life but that also means being against unjest wars and fighting poverty and working for a more just economic sytem. By the way, a majority of Catholics support mariiage equality. Rick Santorum knows that and knows he will get fewer Catholic votes than the Republicans who support him think. An alliance between rightwing members of the Catholic Church and fundamentalists who have taken over the evangelical churches will be nothing more than the same alliance they have as Republican voters. These rightwing Catholics accuse more moderate or liberal Catholics of picking and choosing what they like about their faith and ignoring the rest. Well that is just what these rightist Catholics do when they ignore the Church’s teachings on social justice and that is what fundamentalists do as well. Rick Santorum meanly brings all of this out!

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  • Senoy

    Evangelicals are increasingly ‘non-denominationalized’ with only marginal ties to historical structures. They are also in many ways unaware of the theological underpinnings of their own churches. The teachings within these churches tend to be broadly charismatic, but very theologically light. (Ask a mega-churcher the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism and you’ll likely hear that one is a comic strip character and the other is a country bordering Turkey.) Within Protestantism as a whole, the laity have essentially lost any sense of the differences within denominations and churches. It’s fairly common to see families bounce between Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc. churches and really have no idea what the difference is other than the style of music and the quality of the children’s program. Catholics have always been across the unbridgeable gulf, but in the last 20 years, we’ve seen real resurgences in Catholic practices among Evangelicals. (As a time appropriate example, when I was growing up in the 80s in an Evangelical church:Free Methodist to be exact, we were completely unaware of Lent. Yesterday morning, one of our churches had a 7am Ash Wednesday service so people could get their ashes before work.) I think we’re also seeing a more conciliatory tone among the mega-pastors that are the true shapers of Evangelicalism. Especially among the younger, lefter leaning Evangelicals. Their heroes tend to be the religious social reformers of days gone by and many if not most of them were Catholics (Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Ciaron O’Reilly as examples) So among the liberal set, you hear a lot of Catholics being held up as models of Christ-like service. So, I think we see a push from celebrity pastors along with a real ignorance from the laity and it’s resulting in closer relations with Catholicism. Personally, I think it’s a good thing, but time will tell.

  • Jbird

    #9 Rockerbabe: you’re still confusing the issue and confusing the purpose of an insurance pool vs. a 3rd party paying your premiums. You can buy an insurance policy that covers contraception. Nobodies talking about banning it. If a Catholic hospital doesn’t want to offer you that insurance you can either find a different employer or purchase the insurance yourself. . . or just pay the $20 out of pocket for the pill every month. You make it sound like not having someone else pay for your contraception is akin to chaining you to the stove and forcing you to be barefoot & pregnant.

  • Rockerbabe

    #14 Jbird; in the marketplace called employment, women are like men and they have legal and constitutional rights to fair and equitable treatment in the workplace with regard to salaries, job opportunities and benefit packages. This is the law; if one works for a non-religious affiliated entity, then the law in total applies. There can be no discrimination against what women are offered in terms of insurance coverage and what the men are offered or not offered as the case may be.

    To use the flimsy excuse that contraception violates “our” religious beliefs is to say that the church can discriminate against women in terms of healthcare coverage, specifically covered services and rx drug coverage. Men have no exemptions with regard to their care or use of rx drug coverage. I object to them being given Viagra without a proper dx of ED, etc. What next, you object to vaccines, so someone doesn’t get that coverage; another employer objects to blood transfusion and employees do without.

    When employers make such exemptions to employee coverage, it can be considered “directing” medical care and thus make employers liable when an employee is harmed by denial of a covered service.

    Just because YOU don’t like contraception, doesn’t mean you get to deny me coverage. I don’t like reckless behavior, I shouldn’t be forced to cover the consequences of that behavior, including unplanned pregnancies. I don’t like diabetics not following their MD’s treatment care plan; I shouldn’t have to help pay for their care, but I do. I don’t like smoking [never have myself], but I help pay for those who have dx related to smoking such as MI, cancer, lung disease, etc. You think $20 is a small thing; but or many women, the $20 represents denial of equal treatment, denial of fairness, denial of care for which they have paid.

    I don’t see the church offering to have women pay less for their healthcare needs than the men. It is the old double standard; men get what they want and women have to settle for much less, even when paying the same price. Discrimination against women is illegal, immoral, reckless and your attitude is obtuse and obstinate.

  • Jbird

    #15 I happen to like contraceptives. I’m protestant. Frankly I think the hospitals should just offer the coverage and hope that those who profess faith follow through in the practice. however, even if I was against contraceptives I couldn’t deny you coverage because you can buy your own insurance somewhere else, the wonders of the somewhat, (not for long) free market. You are certainly welcome to start your own insurance company offering those plans your talking about. I don’t think anyone’s going to buy them though. If a Jehovah’s Witness has a company that doesn’t cover blood transfusions in it’s insurance plan, I think (s)he’s going to have a hard time getting non-Jehovah’s Witnesses to work there.

    The comparable medical device to the pill for men, both in price and purpose, is the condom. Since I can’t use my health insurance at the corner gas station to get those for free, by your logic men are actually the ones being discriminated against because nobody is paying for my cheap and widely available form of family planning.

  • Rockerbabe

    Artifical contraception for women is a prescription medicine or device that is regulated by the FDA and requires an MD assessment, rx or skilled procedure.

    Not very many women can use the rhythm method successfully or even have husbands that cooperate with that method of birth control. Artificial contraception [hormonal and device] has a 99.9% success rate and that is why they are so popular. Not mention the benefits of the hormones, regulation, etc.

    Condoms are OTC and require absolutely no MD intervention; just a willingness and consistency on both partners. The success rate for condoms, even if used correctly is about 85%.

  • Jbird

    Rockerbabe: Did someone suggest outlawing OBGYN appointments now too? The FDA also regulates condoms why can’t I use my blue cross/blue shield card to get them? Sexism, that’s why. Obviously after 30 years of Womyn’s Studies being taught in school’s and universities, the male has been forcibly disengaged from the decision making process in regard to family planning. It’s like we’re just gamete dispensers here for womyn to use as they see fit, almost like property. Property has no say over whether or not a woman gets an abortion, property is only to be used for dna and child support, and property gets no employer provided free condoms. A medical device which, incidentally, provides much greater protection against STD’s than does female forms of birth control (which is none). Therefore prophylactics are an even greater societal good in terms of public health. With this insidious form of sexism, you are obviously promoting the spread of AIDS.

  • WigWag

    Regardless of whether third party payers and the institutions that hire them to provide health insurance to their employees cover birth control or not, the far more interesting and relevant question is what’s behind the Roman Catholic Church’s objection to contraception in the first place.

    There is little doubt that that all three Abrahamic faiths foster neurotic and bizarre attitudes about sex. Male members of some Hasidic sects won’t touch a menstruating woman let alone have sex with her. The practice of female genital mutilation in the Muslim world is ubiquitous throughout North Africa and it is not uncommon for grandmothers to sew their granddaughters labia shut when the girls enter puberty to “protect their virtue.”

    All of this is little more than a war on recreational sex; to be more accurate it is a war by men on the idea that women should enjoy recreational sex.

    The views held by observant Christians about female sexuality are often both neurotic and strange. The idea of original sin (Adam eating the forbidden fruit after being enticed by Eve who was seduced by Satan in the form of a phallic-like serpent) is bizarre enough. Superimpose on this, the Christian insistence that the mother of Jesus was a virgin and the utterly strange relationship Christians envision between Jesus and Mary Magdalene and one has to wonder what type of uncanny psychological ailment inspires the whole world view.

    If the Christian view of sex is strange, the Roman Catholic view borders on the demented. The contemporary Catholic view about contraception is little more than a continuation of the Church’s centuries old Jihad against female recreational sex.

    Perhaps there is very little new here. For centuries supposedly celibate priests, bishops and even popes have engaged in sexual escapades which, if carried out by Catholic congregants, would be subject to severe reprimand. The most recent manifestation of this is the scandal of priests fondling young boys without fear of censure from their ecclesiastical superiors; it is hard to believe that this hasn’t been going on for a long time. There’s no need to even mention the Church’s theological views about homosexuality which it refuses to revise even though a not insubstantial number of its priests are homosexuals drawn to a celibate clergy as a way of sublimating their sexual frustrations. How much Catholic art down through the centuries has depicted Christ and the Saints in a pseudo-sexual or even homoerotic manner?

    The Roman Catholic Church opposes contraception because it is a male dominated institution that is encumbered by a neurotic and deranged fear of female sexuality; it wants to prevent women from engaging in recreational sex with the same freedom and gusto that men do. To accomplish this, it seeks to forbid contraception which threatens women with pregnancy as a consequence of their desire to engage in recreational sex with the same frequency that men do including Catholic men and Catholic clergy.

    I have no doubt that the Catholic Church is opposed to and disgusted by the practice of a grandmother sewing her granddaughter’s labia shut to prevent her from engaging in premarital sex. Only after a Muslim woman marries and thus becomes the property of her husband is sexual intercourse allowed. The problem for Catholics is that the ban on contraception is merely a less violent and less repugnant version of the same thing. The Muslim practice is designed to control female sexuality; the Roman Catholic opposition to birth control is motivated by precisely the same thing.

  • Jbird

    Wigwag: Which ideal do you suppose is better for society, the Christian ideal that sex be within the confines of marriage or the secular ideal of free love?

  • WigWag

    J Bird, the Christian idea that sex should take place only in the confines of marriage is little more than a farce. It is an ideal that in reality has never been faintly approached and never will be. Huge percentages of Christian men have enjoyed recreational sex for two thousand years including supposedly celibate Roman Catholic clergy.

    What you call the “ideal” has through history mostly been honored in the breach which makes your question irrelevant. Contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy for women so that they can choose to enjoy recreational sex in the same manner that men do and always have.

    It seems to me that the evidence is clear that what motivates what you call the “Christian ideal” is little more than the desire of men to control the sexual lives of women, all the theological mumbo jumbo to the contrary notwithstanding.

    As for the merits of sex within the confines of marriage versus free-love; both have their merits and risks. I personally believe that pregnancy outside of marriage is problematic for a variety of reasons but I don’t think that my views on the matter should be imposed on anyone else. Of course, contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy outside of marriage as a consequence of recreational sex. As for free love, I can see the merits of that too.

    People like sex, Jbird; it’s fun and it feels good; that’s why sex, other than food and drink is the most basic feature of human life. But let’s get real; throughout history men have always availed themselves of the possibility of “free-love.” Contraception does nothing but let women get in on the party.

    If Muslims and Roman Catholics want to be consistent here’s what they can do; if Muslim women are stoned to death for adultery, Muslim men should be also.

    If the Catholic Church wants to outlaw contraception (and there is every reason to think that given its druthers, this is exactly what it would want to do), then the church should also advocate castration as the penalty for men who engage in recreational sex outside of marriage.

    Even better, the Catholic Church in particular and staunchly observant Jews, Christians and Muslims in particular could come to terms with their bizarre and neurotic attitudes about sex.

    Of course, that’s too much to hope for.

  • Carlo

    “Huge percentages of Christian men have enjoyed recreational sex for two thousand years”

    Pfff, and how do you know? Any data? My anecdotal evidence is as good as yours: when I was younger there was a minority of men who did that. The VAST majority did not, for the simple fact that they lived in tightly-knit family based communities where it would have been immediately noticed and disapproved of.

    As usual. ideological liberalism must rely on a mythological version of history…

  • WigWag

    Sure, Carlo, I’m sure you’re right, recreational sex by men is a relatively new phenomenon. It must only be since the Supreme Court made it’s decision about contraception in Griswold v Connecticut that men started enjoying recreational sex outside of marriage. The first thing I’m going to do just as soon as I get a chance is search the statistical abstracts for quantitative evidence about how many men are messing around today versus a hundred years ago versus a thousand years ago.

    Surely you must be right; if we prohibit contraception as the Catholic Church would like and if we all took the advice of the “celibate” men who make up the hierarchy of the Catholic Church more seriously we could return to those good old days when the Church’s injunction against sex outside of marriage was meticulously followed. In those good old days men were virtous.

    If only those damned women and their desire to used contraceptive devices hadn’t corrupted the male gender we could return to those times of yore when women were pure as the driven snow and men were honorable and chaste.

  • Rockerbabe

    #23 Wig Wag: I do so enjoy your sense of humor!

  • George Sim Johnston

    I am among those Catholics who have gone to the trouble to study the Church’s teaching on contraception and find it persuasive. In any event, it is seldom mentioned that the Pill sometimes works as an abortifacient; in other words, it does its work after conception, and so the word “contraceptive” can be a misnomer. I admire much of Peter Berger’s writings; he says he is a Lutheran. Is he aware of Martin Luther’s teaching on this issue? Or, for that matter, Saint Paul’s in the fifth chapter of Galatians? Check the original Greek: Among the list of sins of the flesh is “pharmekea”, which refers to the contraceptive potions used back then.

  • It is a religious freedom issue. No one has the right to judge any religious belief is unless there is a danger to the common welfare. If you pass judgment, it gives Catholics the right to judge you. Fair is fair.

    In 1968, Pope Paul VI wrote an Encyclical Letter, Humanae Vitae. In paragraph 17 Pope Paul VI predicted these consequences for artificial birth control: 1. marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.2) human weakness, especially the young need incentives to keep the moral law. 3) a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

    It is easy to see that all of these have come true. Read Theology of the Body by Christoper West if you really want to know why Catholics believe ABC is sinful. Don’t judge what you have not studied. Eternal Truth is truth. Opinions are not eternal truth. All Christians believed ABC was sinful until 1930.

  • Jbird

    Wigwag: I asked about the ideal. 100% of the population restraining themselves to only have sex inside of the marriage covenant is never going to happen. But then again, consequence free sex outside of marriage is a much larger myth. I seem to be seeing a lot of headlines of late about drug resistant gonorrhea becoming more and more prevalent in the US. How many teen suicides every year are the result of broken relationships? How many murders? There was one in the paper just recently involving sex and various boyfriends. Personally I have plenty of recreational sex within the confines of my marriage. Just because one has sex with their wife, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, Wigwag. Mine even uses birth control (that prevents ovulation rather than prevents implantation), again, I’m Protestant. Also, you are quite mistaken that The religious wink at male infidelity. My church recently excommunicated someone for leaving his family and being unrepentant about it.

    Which is better for society, that men and women be encouraged show responsibility and moral restraint to form families or that everyone should just do what makes them feel good? Boy, that’s a slippery slope. You know the Bolsheviks tried to outlaw the bourgeoisie concept of families after the Russian Revolution? It did not work out all that well for the women, though I think the men were quite content. It ended an utter failure. Your argument seems to be that because some men act like dogs, women should be encouraged to act like dogs as well. Frankly I don’t pine to legislate a woman’s ability to take the pill and sleep around. I prefer to influence hearts and minds and change desire, which I think is the tact the Bishops ought to be taking in this case. Just offer the coverage and hope that belief and action will coincide. Regardless, it’s a poor society and a sad man that mocks virtue.

  • Wigwag,
    Do people really want to be treated as objects of selfish lust? Or is what we long for is to give ourselves unselfishly in genuine love that respects the dignity of the person? What I long for is love that is total, faithful, fruitful, and freely chosen.
    Our dignity as women rests on our unique ability to cooperate with God in creating a new human being. My fertility is, therefore, sacred. If someone does not respect that, then they do not respect the whole me. A man that uses a condom is not totally giving himself to me. He is holding back his fertility, the ability that makes him male and co-creator with God.

    Pregnancy is not a horrible disease that makes it necessary for the government to violate the Constitution in mandating to make it free regardless whether it violates one’s conscience to provide it. The State should not “violate the free exercise” of religion. Pay for ABC yourself, get a different job where it is provided, or go to Planned Parenthood. The Catholic Church is not mandating non-Catholics to not use it. She is protesting the violation of freedom of religion. She is promoting the dignity of the human person who is created in God’s image and likeness. Hopefully, that is something you would also want for yourself enough to follow her doctrines. I also find it persuasive.

    What do you long for in the depths of your heart? Lust or love? Chastity within marriage opens up the possibility of a deeper meaning to life and relationships.

  • WigWag

    “I seem to be seeing a lot of headlines of late about drug resistant gonorrhea becoming more and more prevalent in the US. How many teen suicides every year are the result of broken relationships? How many murders? There was one in the paper just recently involving sex and various boyfriends.” (Jbird)

    Until the last half of the 20th century all venereal disease was drug resistant, Jbird. That’s because the antibiotics which cured the bacterial form of these diseases hadn’t been invented yet. That didn’t prevent “free love” or extramarital sex from being the default position for a significant percentage of the world’s male population. Contraception reduces the prevalence of sexually transmitted disease. Most importantly, it reduces the risk of women who engage in extramarital sex to a level at least somewhat commensurate with the level of risk that men engaging in recreational sex experience.

    It is the very fact that contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy from recreational sex that the Catholic Church finds so objectionable. The Church would much prefer that the threat of pregnancy is held over the heads of women like the sword of Damocles if they engage in precisely the same behavior that men do. What an additional irony it is that down through history Catholic clergy have been the lords of lasciviousness.

    As for teen suicides, I am certain that you’re right; surely there are teen suicides caused be teenagers engaging in extramarital sex. How many suicides do you suppose there have been, Jbird, caused by unwanted pregnancies experienced by young girls? The availability of contraception ameliorates these risks, at least somewhat, while at the same time giving license to women to engage in the same behavior that men do. That’s really the problem isn’t it-women, at long last, having a risk free license to do what men have been doing since time immemorial?

    Of course none of that addresses the basic venality of how the Abrahamic faiths view sex or the strange and neurotic obsession that the Roman Catholic Church in particular has with human sexuality, especially female sexuality.

  • WigWag

    “Do people really want to be treated as objects of selfish lust?” (Begger)

    My guess, Begger, is that some people do and some people don’t.

  • Jbird

    Wigwag: My point is that neither ideal is possible, but I’ll take a society that values family and marriage over one that values sleeping with anything in a skirt. There is no such thing as risk free sex outside of marriage with or without contraception. You seem to be arguing that because some men do it, women should to. “Because some sin, all should sin” would make for an interesting religious tenet. Should you ever start that church, I’d be interested to see the outcome. Anyway, I’m saying neither should. But I’m not looking to criminalize it either. Some of my best friends are fornicators. . . I kid, I kid. But, I do not understand how you can twist your logic so far as to argue that being in favor of confining sex to marriage for both men and women is in some way an anti-woman position.

    In my opinion, the Roman Catholic position on contraception has more to do with a mix of Greek philosophy and “potentiality” in their theology and perhaps a overly simplistic interpretation of the story of Tamar than it does with with trying to control anyone. Though perhaps I’m being too generous, i don’t pretend to speak for Catholics. Dostoevsky’s “The Grand Inquisitor” is one of my favorite critiques of that church. But, I am of a “Abrahamic faith” and I think sex is great. I just think monogamy is proven to be healthier physically and emotionally for individuals and for society at large.

  • WigWag

    By the way, Jbird, it may surprise you to know that on the political issue (whether Catholic institutions should be required to offer health insurance to employees that includes cost-free access to contraception) I agree with you and Professor Berger. I think the Obama Administration position on this is not only politically unwise, I think it’s wrong.

    While I think that Jews, Muslims and Christians have bizarre views about sexuality and while I think that the Roman Catholic view of sexuality is neurotic and verges on the pathological, I am perfectly happy to admit that my opinion about this is in the minority, at least in this country. I fully understand that intelligent people have views as passionate as mine that are diametrically opposed to what I believe.

    Most of all I believe that we are incredibly lucky to live in a country founded by the greatest political geniuses in the history of the world. The bequeathed to us a liberal society which allows me to express my views regardless of how idiosyncratic they may be.

    Another element of the liberalism that the founders bequeathed to us was the brilliant realization that religious disputes tend to be particularly contentious and acrimonious. Having witnessed religious wars destroy Europe, they wisely included the “free exercise” and the “no establishment” clauses in the First Amendment. I believe their purpose was to have government exercise strict neutrality when it comes to religion.

    I think they were right to do this. We live in a country with diverse views where people engage in vitriolic disputes about issues like abortion or contraception. Ultimately we are all Americans and social comity is critical if E Pluribus Unum is to have any meaning.

    In my assessment, forcing religious institutions to engage in behavior that they find morally reprehensible is a mistake. Of course there is a countervailing interest here; the interest of women employees who don’t hew to the Catholic view on contraception to have access to contraception.

    At the risk of punning, I think that these women should adopt a crucified position; they should subvert their feelings for the greater good. To put it another way, they should take one for the team.

    Given the ubiquity of contraception and how inexpensive contraceptive devices are, I think it’s better for these women to accept that some health plans won’t cover contraception than it is to offend the religious sensibilities of tens of millions of people. Far better to donate to Planned Parenthood so they can distribute free contraceptive devices than to perpetuate a rancorous debate about whether Catholic institutions should pay for contraception whether they want to or not.

    Part of living in a free society is the willingness to not force our neighbors to engage in behavior that seems perfectly reasonable to us but outrages them.

    Again, the founders got this right. Nothing is more contentious than religious disputes; the government should maintain strict neutrality when it comes to these disputes.

    Contraception is not going to disappear if the government doesn’t force Catholic hospitals or other institutions to offer contraception as part of their health insurance plans. Yes some women will be inconvenienced and even offended. In my judgment the inconvenience and offence will be less acute than the inconvenience and offence associated with forcing these Catholic institutions to do what they don’t want to do.

    Ultimately the sharpness of our disagreements makes it even more critical for us to be willing to accommodate each other.

    While I think Roman Catholic views about sex border on the deranged , I don’t think that Roman Catholic institutions should be forced to purchase insurance plans for their employees that cover contraception.

    Liberals should be supporting freedom of religion not undermining it just because we think the Catholic Church or other religious institutions are batty.

  • Begger

    Wigwag, I’m glad you support conscience rights on the HHS Mandate. We agree on that. Who knows what the HHS will demand next? The one child policy as in China?

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I do feel obliged to defend the Catholic Church’s teaching about ABC. In case you don’t know, there is a morally acceptable method of spacing children. It is called Natural Family Planning. It’s the artificial kind that causes conscience issues.

    Unfortunately today, children are thought of as a economic burden that uses up natural resources and keeps parents from doing “more fulfilling” things. How sad! Children are a precious gift from God! Nothing could be more fulfilling in life than raising children.

    It is only since Protestant denominations started permitted artificial birth control (none of them did before 1930) that there is a break between the procrative and unitive aspect of the sexual act. Catholics haven’t caved on this. We still teach that artificial birth control is wrong because it lacks being open to the gift of new life. It encourages men and women to act in sexually irresponsible ways, instead of a loving, committed, sacramental relationship. Marriage is a sign of the covenant God has made with mankind. He makes His invisible love manifest and believable in the world through the sign of marriage.

    Instead, since the 60’s, there has been an erosion of respect for women to where they are too often regarded as mere sex objects, not as the honorable role of wife and mother where fertility is treated as a gift, not a disease. Divorce has made us a society of serial polygamists. Thirty percent of pregnancies end in abortion. Of those that survive that, 30% are born to unwed mothers. Women ought to be treated better than this. Children deserve better too. That’s damaging to our future as a nation in too many ways to explain here. ABC may prevent pregnancy, but it does not prevent emotional and societal harm. The Church sets high standards though they are difficult to live because they are in our best interest in helping us grow in holiness. It wants each of us to be the best version of ourselves. It is a kindness to warn someone if their behavior is not in their best benefit in the long run. I tell my child to not touch the hot stove because I love them and want to protect them. I am not a meany for depriving them of their “freedom” to experience being burnt. I don’t deserve being ridiculed for teaching them.

  • Pingback: Eminent Sociologist Peter Berger on HHS mandate, religious liberty, and deepening cobelligerency between Catholics and Evangelicals « thereformedmind()

  • David Taylor, MD

    #16 and #17, JBird and Rockerbabe

    A quick comment about oral contraception. Throughout the world “the pill” is available over-the-counter. I was recently in a grocery store in Rio de Janeiro, for example, where oral contraceptives were being sold in a display near the cash register, like candy in a U.S. grocery. At about $4 for a month supply. And this in a strongly Catholic country. I’ve seen people buying ‘the pill’ throughout Latin America and in Europe without prescriptions.

    Perhaps one solution to this dilemma is to make oral contraception OTC in the U.S. — there is no good medical reason not to — and leave the issues of paying for it, using it, etc. to the individual. It seems to work in other countries.

  • Kohl Haas

    An old saying: “The Romans were discussing the sex of angels when the Barbarians were at the gates”.

    Contraception is none of the Government’s business.

    Insurance is to spread the risk of unusual and unexpected events. Providing for a routine cost is welfare and violates the basic idea of insurance.

    Welfare available for all is an even stranger concept. Why should someone who wants to use contraception have others pay for it?

    The whole idea is nuts.

  • David Taylor, MD

    @35 Kohl Haas

    It has long been noted that what we typically call “health insurance” is neither for health, nor is it insurance in the narrow sense you mention. Still, it works according the underlying economic principle of insurance: it spreads the cost to individuals over the course of their lifetimes (so that you can get medical care in your old age by having already paid for it when you were young and didn’t need as much); and it spreads the risk over a pool of people who agree to accept that risk. Who said that “insurance” has to be for unexpected events only? My retirement plan works according to a similar principle, as do credit cards – you acquire a benefit but pay for it on a different, longer schedule.

    Most medical insurance plans do place limits on elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery that are not medically necessary, and from one point of view contraception falls into this elective category. Two factors might – might – counterbalance this perspective. The first is that oral contraceptives for women need a physician’s prescription in the U.S. (see my note, above), unlike, say, condoms, which are available OTC; and second, the consequences of making contraceptive services harder to get can be extremely expensive. An insurance company that pays for the cost of even a normal, uncomplicated delivery – which in my area costs about $18,000 – might decide, as a matter of rational economic policy, that it is cheaper in the long run to cover the costs of contraception than to pay for the children that might be conceived and born if those preventive costs are not covered. (And, BTW, that birth is also ‘elective’ – a choice made by the parents, not a disease being cured by an obstetrician – and by your reasoning should also not be covered by health insurance…). Virtually all of the medical insurance plans I deal with do cover contraceptive services (I’m a cardiologist, so it’s not something my own patients come to me for…), and I assume that they know what they’re doing.

  • Kohl Haas

    @ David Taylor

    You make much of my point: Your credit cards, retirement plan, and your patients having medical plans that covered pregnancy and birth are elective. You did not choose your credit cards or retirement plan because the government forced you to. I personally had medical insurance for very little of my adult life – by choice.

    The onerous part of this and all the grand expansion of rules and regulations is the coercion aspect; you must be forced to do what other people say is good for you. Carried to the extreme, what do they do if you refuse to participate? At some point laws and regulations must be enforced and that means that at some point men with guns will come and arrest you if you do not pay for other people’s contraception.

  • David Taylor, MD

    @Kohl Haas

    The point you make in your comment #37 is quite different from the point you make in #35; the earlier comment focused on the voluntary nature of contraception, not whether medical insurance is voluntary. We have no quarrel about the issue of mandated medical insurance coverage: this extraordinary requirement was designed to mollify the insurance industry, not ordinary citizens who might prefer to manage on their own.

    Again, your comment #35 struck me as contestable (not wrong, simply contestable) whether or not medical insurance is mandatory or voluntary.

    I’m glad that you managed without medical insurance for much of your adult life, and I’ll hope that your future medical expenses are modest as well.

  • Pingback: Contraception and the Culture War « B Blogging()

  • WigWag

    The iconoclastic Roman Catholic essayist Gary Wills has an article directly pertinent to Professor Berger’s blog post in the current issue of the New York Review of Books.

    In a much more elegant fashion than I did, Wills outs members of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, from the clueless pope on down, for what they are; passionate enemies of sex.

    In his article entitled, “Contraception’s Con Men” he says,

    “The Roman authorities would not have fallen for such a silly argument but for a deep historical disrelish for sex itself. Early Fathers and medieval theologians considered sex unworthy when not actually sinful. That is why virgin saints and celibate priests were prized above married couples. Thomas Aquinas said that priests must not be married, since “those in holy orders handle the sacred vessels and the sacrament itself, and therefore it is proper (decens) that they preserve, by abstinences, a body undefiled (munditia corporalis) (Summa Theologiae, Part 3 Supplement, Question 53, article 3, Response). Marriage, you see, makes for defilement (immunditia). The ban on contraception is a hangover from the period when the body itself was considered unclean, as Peter Brown overwhelmingly proved in The Body and Society (1988).”

    Wills goes on to point out that,

    “Contraception is not even a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture or the Creed is it forbidden. Catholic authorities themselves say it is a matter of “natural law,” over which natural reason is the arbiter—and natural reason, even for Catholics, has long rejected the idea that contraception is evil…To say that others must accept what Catholics themselves do not is bad enough. To say that President Obama is “trying to destroy the Catholic Church” if he does not accept it is much, much worse.” The Yiddish word for what Wills calls “much, much worse” is chutzpah.

    Finally, Wills calls out the Pope himself and actually calls him a phony. Specifically he says,

    “Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” Thinking that the pope is the church is a relic of the days when a monarch was said to be his realm.”

    The whole article is worth a look. It can be found here,

  • atheist

    (I have called it an American version of the Turkish ideology of Kemalism—religion is a virus to be kept out of public space, quarantined in religious reservations).

    Now THAT is an idea!

  • Daniel Kennelly

    Wig Wag, I think you and Mr. Wills should go back and re-read the Summa. Set in context, that snippet of text is part of a conversation that’s much more complicated than you make it out to be. (Unless you were just engaged in weak polemics; in that case, go ahead, cherry-pick away…)

  • M.

    The problem with religiously owned institutions – let’s focus on medical ones for the moment – not being required to serve the needs of a secular community is a dangerous precedent.

    There are doctors who will not perform an anesthetized d&c (dilation and curettage) on a woman who is known to be having a miscarriage, instead forcing her to go through labor and give birth to – give death to, really – a dead fetus because they don’t believe in abortion.

    Women who enter Catholic hospitals in this situation are not always informed that they can undergo a d&c, which is the actual medical term for an “abortion.” Similarly, a woman who has a bacterial uterine infection by way of her fetus, something that no amount of antibiotics can cure, has to terminate her pregnancy or else she’ll die. Is it so humane to not offer her the option of going through a procedure that grants her a touch more peace and removes at least some of the physical pain from this horrible situation she’s forced to endure?

    These scenarios happens. This is life. There are people who’ve survived this ordeal. To set a federally permissible precedent that, say, doctors can ignore the state of their art in the name of religion, especially when it pertains to women, is disgusting. You don’t always get a choice as to which hospital you’re brought to. You don’t get a choice in the emergency room of which doctor treats you.

    Birth control is one thing that women can use to control their own life trajectories. I REALLY don’t think this is where these institutions need to start rejecting so-called secularization. Sometimes, someone has no choice as to where they work because they need a job, any job, to pay the bills.

    Is it honestly better for this person who may rely on her employer’s health plan for birth control to instead turn down a paying job and go on the public dole, getting her birth control from your tax dollars instead? Or is it better for her to have children she neither wants nor can afford and then – let’s completely disregard her own personal choice and dignity for a moment here – have her turn to federal assistance, costing the system far more?

    I don’t buy this as a Federal assault on religious freedom. If religious “freedom” means restricting the choices of women unaffiliated with the system of beliefs, I can’t support that on principle. Houses of worship are exempt from various taxes. There have been copious child abuse scandals and coverups for years in the name of religion. Why is the Catholic church allowed to keep these records secret from authorities? Anyone else in any other situation would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I’m really tired of hearing this rhetoric from the right.

    Newsflash: The GOP is losing tons of the new working class – young educated voters in the 20-40 yr old demographic – because of this religious zealotry. You can’t possibly govern people using a document rooted in ancient heirarchies that in the intervening years led to more war, oppression, and wanton abuse of power than anything else. Everyone on both sides – right and left – have really dropped the ball on making actual leadership decisions that have any long-term foresight whatsoever. There are legions of individuals who are socially liberal (men and women who are pro-feminist, pro-LGBTQ rights, etc.) and fiscally conservative, and the GOP is losing them all. Why on earth is Santorum holding forth on his personal outdated views of gender-specific, heteronormative, patriarchal hierarchy? WTF is he, or any of the candidates, going to actually DO to improve what is frankly a really shit-tastic status quo? Can they talk for five minutes about how credentialist our society is and how much that’s damaging our output and creativity in nearly all subject areas (especially the tech and science sector)? Can they please for a second stop with this “liberal elitist” bullshit, because those highly educated people (like me) are going to be the ones curing cancer and inventing the next generation of technology? Maybe, just maybe, can we hear a debate about each candidate’s plans on how they’re going to help stimulate productivity and entrepreneurialism within the US?

    No, in the GOP, it’s all about controlling vaginas. If Santorum is anywhere near the GOP ticket, for the first time in my life, I will be voting Democrat. Better half a meal in freedom than a full meal in bondage.

  • I’m a Catholic who has always voted for Democratic candidates and voted for Obama the first time. I don’t oppose birth control and I recognize that abortion is the law of the land.

    But I do want the freedom to practice my religious beliefs which oppose abortion and contraception. And that’s what I should be able to expect in the United States with the First Amendment.

    I view the HHS decision as *an assault* on conscience and freedom of belief (which of course includes freedom not to believe). It’s absolutely unnecessary, too, because if a woman really can’t afford birth control, she can go to Planned Parenthood. The First Amendment is all about diversity and ensuring pluralism of beliefs so that no one belief becomes the one that the state coerces on us all. What did Fluke do to buy her birth control before she began demanding the Jesuits pay for it?

    The solution for the HHS debacle still isn’t appropriate as not only is the damage done, but the idea that Catholic institutions still have to preside over providing free birth control is also unsettling.

    Those who argue that institutions receiving federal funds shouldn’t be able to pick and chose about benefits are missing the point that denying funds would be discrimination. Why do we all pay taxes, yet some of us would have to have our religious institutions disqualified from performing their mission with state funds?

    I feel like this was a deliberate gambit by the White House to break the back of Catholics, starting within their own ranks and I marvel that such an outrageous gambit is being attempted. Even before this, I had turned against Obama for other things, notably his pre-emptive support of the anti-SOPA movement and announcement of a veto before this could even be put to a vote — in yet another unsettling indication that the “progressives” want executive power to be unrestrained by the legislative or judicial branches (which is why we have the FCC making decisions about “net neutrality” which should have been a matter of legislation).

    The weakness of the “progressive” Obama administration has also been what has incited the assaults of WikiLeaks, Anonymous, and Occupy Wall Street, all opportunist anarchists seeking to overthrow (or undermine severely) capitalist liberal democracy — and they seized their moment.

    With a terrible sense of ominous developments coming, I feel I must vote for Romney, to restore balance in our country and to ensure the space for freedom of religion or belief remains open and free. I feel mauled by so many extreme things that Obama has done. I don’t have health care, and I thought a health care program would merely ensure some of the basic services would be available at a reduced or subsidized cost — birth control hardly seems a health necessity that we must demand the government pay for.

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