Birth Patrol

The following excerpt is from On Being Human by the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

BIRTH PATROL is a new kind of sentry affecting life. Hitler believed in birth patrol of the Jews; Stalin in birth patrol of Christians; Khrushchev in birth patrol of the Hungarians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Now there are those who would patrol life, not after it becomes a harvest but while it is seed in the granary. The new kind of vigilance would not wait until the fruit appeared on the tree, as did Hitler and others, but would stifle the blossoms and the buds. They would take up their watch at the borderline of love and life and say, “They shall not pass.”

Those who believe in birth patrol find it very hard to justify why they should worry about an increase of population on the one hand, while on the other, they live in a nation which pays farmers not to raise an excess supply of foods. “There will not be enough food,” is muttered in the same breath as “There is a surplus which is hurting prices.” Another inconsistency appears in the fear of a “population explosion” on the one hand, and the multiplication of atomic bombs on the other. The very phrase “population explosion” shows that human birth is equated with a chemical reaction, and that the multiplication of human beings can be as dangerous as an explosion of an atomic bomb.

If we, as a people, had the fear of God’s justice in our hearts, knowing that He is the Giver and the Preserver of life, would we not shrink from fumbling with the levers of life, lest our fingers fumble with the atomic bomb? Even the phrase “population explosion” could turn against us, for has it not been estimated by military experts that on the first day of atomic warfare, fifty million people will be killed?

The attitude of birth patrol is negative, failing to see beauty, truth, love, and life as a whole. Everything is dissected, analyzed, fragmented, split. Picasso paints a man; but the man he paints has been exploded into a thousand particles. He puts the pieces together, but never as they are in a human. The painted man has only one eye and it is in the wrong place. Cynically, a violin solo has been described as the drawing of the hair of a dead horse across the entrails of a dead cat. A poem is so analyzed in its meters that it no longer carries meaning; the conscious and subconscious in man are probed to a point where they look like a watch a naughty boy has torn apart - wheels, ratchets, hands, face, jewels are scattered about as time is destroyed.

Love is distorted and its disfigurement has gone through two phases. Both have one thing in common - namely, the denial of the “other.” First, through the influence of Sartre, Proust, Stendhal, and Nietzsche love denied the partner, as love was defined as the projection of the self into something else in order to intensify the pleasure of the ego. The other is not loved; the other does not exist except as an occasion of egocentric satisfaction. The ego gives the other the illusion that he or she is loved, but once the water is drunk, the glass is forgotten. Then came the second phase -. the denial of the other in the sense of the offspring; birth is patrolled. Love is denied a fruit. Lover and beloved become like two ships that pass in a night of epidermic contact. Their mutual self-giving ends in exhaustion and boredom. And because the other is denied either as partner or parent, there is a breakup and a search for another partner in a wild ecstasy of being alone together.

Life is a whole; so is love. Love is like eating; there is something personal that belongs to us, and something impersonal and reflex that belongs to God. We can choose what we eat, but after we eat, digestion is automatic. Thus does God assure the preservation of individual life. Love is personal; we decide where we will live. But in the act of love there is something automatic, reflex, beyond personal control. This is where God steps in to preserve the human species as digestion preserves the individual. We can, of course, tickle our throats and vomit; we can fumble and tear at the blossoms of life too; but will God look with favor on such perversion of His law?

These words are written for the future, and may it be distant. We do have to fear a “population explosion,” but it will come from fumbling with a bomb because we have thwarted a womb.

2001 Catholics Against Contraception