If there’s one thing the ongoing controversy over contraceptive coverage can teach us, it is this: we have to be smarter about the way we advocate for NFP over contraception. In recent weeks, we’ve heard the argument that because Catholics use birth control just as much as everyone else (although that is an exaggerated claim), this whole controversy is much ado about nothing.
In one sense, the critics have a point: how can we expect to be taken seriously if we can’t even convince our own members? We have to take the message to the secular world — and let’s face it, our fellow Catholics — and we have to do it on their terms, not ours.
What do I mean by this?
I mean that we can list side effects till we’re blue in the face, but every medication has side effects, and hardly anyone experiences them. If they do, they consider the benefit to outweigh the side effect. Trying to argue people out of contraception on that basis is doomed to fail.
I mean that every time we talk about the Pill causing abortions, our audience remembers the scientists and doctors who insist it doesn’t. Right or wrong, if it comes to our word versus the AMA, we’re going to lose.
I mean that when we invoke the word “sin” independent of reason, people tune us out as repressive and “out of touch.” (You know that one gets applied to us all the time.)
Please understand: I’m not saying these things aren’t important. They are. They’re a vital part of our classes and our total apostolate. But like it or not, “the Church says so” isn’t enough for modern audiences. They want to know why the Church says so. And although Church teaching is based on moral reasons, those reasons are far from arbitrary–they rest on very practical foundations. We will draw more people in, and they will be more open to seeing the connection between practical and moral lessons, if we promote NFP using terms that will resonate with modern, secular audiences. Terms like these:
1. Green. Remember the study done in northern Canada, where trace amounts of estrogen, comparable to what we ingest through the water supply, were introduced to pristine lakes…and the male fish started showing signs of female reproductive development? What about the simple logic of the idea that if chemical-free is good for food and lawn care, it’s also good for the body?
2. Healthy living. Pop culture is all about finding simple lifestyle changes to improve quality of life. Surely it makes sense to get in tune with the body, to understand how it works and live in harmony with it instead of trying to suppress its natural function.
3. Respect for women. Women in the post-sexual revolution era have bought into the idea that turning off their fertility empowers them. But at the same time, they rage about the state of a woman’s world today: impossible standards of beauty, anorexia, being ogled instead of appreciated for their abilities. They write books on the topic. In reality, the universality of birth control has changed the cultural mindset, tying a woman’s intrinsic worth to her sexual availability. It has aided in turning women into sex objects, in prisons built of Botox and plastic surgery. How is this empowering to women?
4. Respect for women, round 2: For that matter, the universality of birth control has led to women not understanding how their bodies work–the complex interplay of hormones and the related physical changes. For all the focus on sex in our culture, people are appallingly ignorant of the process. Having given over understanding our bodies in favor of suppressing a normal, healthy function of the body, fertility is treated as a disease in need of “preventive care.”
These points can be made without reference to theology, appealing instead to reason. Theology follows naturally, leading to a holistic view of human sexuality — and that is as it should be. From time immemorial, religious teachings have rested on an foundation of reason — even Old Testament prohibitions like avoiding pork or circumcision had a very practical, earth-bound rationale. Appealing to reason is not a capitulation, but a way to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise listen at all. Only when we make our case in this way will we have a chance of influencing a culture that is so convinced of the need for “free” contraceptives.
Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, liturgical composer, choir director, CCL teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display at www.kathleenbasi.com.