Contraception is a Disorder of Nature

by D. Q. McInerny, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary, PO Box 147, Denton, NE., 68339. This article was published in the Newsletter published by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Griffin Rd., P.O. Box 196, Elmhurst, PA. 18416; www.fssp.com; E-mail info@fssp.com

There seems to be no reason why we should not accept as fact the claims of those sociological experts who tell us that a very large majority of Catholics roundly reject the Church’s limpidly clear and often stated teaching on the matter of contraception. This would seem indeed to be a fact of contemporary Catholic life, and, when you reflect on it a moment, an altogether remarkable fact.

The condemnation of contraception as an inherently disordered act, which is to say, a sinful act, represents one of the Church’s most prominently consistent moral teachings, with a formidable 2000 year history behind it. We are, then, hardly talking about something new. What is new, however, is that a central moral teaching of the Church, which up to a scant seventy years ago was willingly subscribed to by all Christians, is today not only not regarded as a vice but even touted as a positive virtue by Protestant bodies, and — the cause for yet greater wonder — is ignored by such a large number of Catholics that on this particular issue there appears to be no appreciable difference between the behavior of Protestants and the behavior of Catholics.

What is going on? We need not pause over the Protestant abandonment of the traditional Christian teaching on contraception. It was, after all, only a matter of time before certain moral truths should be surrendered, once certain dogmatic truths had already been surrendered, for the former depend upon the latter Becoming soft on morals follows inevitably upon becoming soft on dogma

Protestants might be excused for their pro-contraceptive attitude, for the official Protestant position, to the extent that there is such a thing, is itself unambiguously pro-contraceptive. But what are we to make of the widespread rejection on the part of Catholics of one of the central moral tenets of the Church to which they claim a1legiance? We can begin by observing that what we have in this circumstance is an egregious contradiction, a contradiction between the supposed loyalty to a community, and an adamant refusal to guide one’s life according to a key moral principle for which that community stands. But how explain this contradiction’?

Are we to conclude that all these Catholics are manifestly insincere in the attitude they take toward contraception? Is it the case that in their heart of hearts they know that they are wrong, but they nevertheless act contrary to what they know? There would seem to be no obvious warrant for such a conclusion. We need not assume that pro-contraceptive Catholics are insincere, but neither do we need attach any particular importance to their sincerity, just as such.

Catholics who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception may be quite sincere, but their sincerity is totally irrelevant to the truth or falsity of the issue in question. That might sound overly harsh, especially to someone who is sincerely guided by the conviction that in the matter of human affairs sincerity is all. We live in a strange epoch, whose atmosphere has been polluted by a narcotizing combination of cynicism and sentimentality, and this has produced a distorted attitude toward sincerity. The argument behind the attitude is simple and goes something like this: sincerity is the most important thing; therefore, so long as we are sincere everything else is more or less incidental.

Is sincerity important? Of course it is. Is it the most important thing? No. To use philosophical terminology, we say that sincerity is a necessary condition for just human interaction, but not a sufficient one. In other words, it is essential that one be sincere, but one must be more than simply sincere; one must be right as well. It is such a monumental blunder to suppose that sincerity is sufficient, and yet how susceptible we are to committing that blunder. I may be completely sincere in my conviction that Mozart was an Irishman, but for all that the great composer’s true nationality remains serenely unaltered. Those Catholics who reject the Church’s teaching on contraception may be utterly and unquestionably sincere, but they are also utterly and unquestionably wrong. It is important that we be very clear about that distinction.

There are some among those sociological experts cited above who want to try to persuade us that because most American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraception - supposing this to be the case - we should therefore conclude from this purely statistical information that the position of those Catholics is to be considered right and the venerable position of the Church to be considered wrong. And then the implied next step is that the Church should change her position so as progressively to conform herself to the current majority opinion But this would be to give legitimacy to one of the most flagrant of logical fallacies. It is the kind of thinking that proceeds along the lines that because most people hold X to be true, we must then conclude that X is in fact true. Non sequitur, it doesn’t follow. If such fallacious reasoning were to have been the determining factor in the fourth century, we would now all be Arians, not Catholics.

2001 Catholics Against Contraception