In the confessional and when dealing with married couples I find mainly two attitudes in Catholics who use contraceptives. One is that of weakness, there is knowledge of the evil of contraception, but the circumstances of life become a justification for using contraceptives in order to avoid pregnancy. Another attitude is to think that it is not intrinsically evil. Some think it is wrong but not a grave sin, others don’t think it is wrong at all.
There is a strong relation between what we think and what we do. Our actions reflect our ideas regarding reality, regarding our understanding of the human person. What ideas are behind the use of contraception? The first comes from a belief that scientific and technological progress is more important than ethics or even faith in God. This is a mentality that goes back to Francis Bacon as Benedict XVI has clearly expressed in his Encyclical on Hope, Spe Salvi (16-17). There he explains how at the foundations of the modern age there was a new era based on a “new correlation between science and praxis” which was given “a theological application: the new correlation between science and praxis would mean that the dominion over creation –given to man by God and lost through original sin –would be reestablished.”
The Pope goes on to stress the difficulty of this position. It undermines our faith in Jesus Christ: “Anyone who reads and reflects on these statements attentively will recognize that a disturbing step has been taken: up to that time, the recovery of what man had lost through the expulsion from Paradise was expected from faith in Jesus Christ: herein lay ‘redemption’. Now, this ‘redemption’, the restoration of the lost ‘Paradise’ is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis.” Hope is no longer based on faith in Jesus Christ, which is relegated to a purely private sphere, but rather is now based on faith in progress.
Contraception would thus be legitimized as technical mastery over nature, which would supposedly correspond to the divine decrees. In other words, if technology allows you to manipulate your body in order to avoid pregnancy, then to use contraceptives is good. This would be substituting God who alone can guarantee what is right and what is wrong, with technology. You don’t need too much reflection to understand the baselessness of this belief. If it were so, then it would be good to destroy the earth as long as technology gives you the capacity to do it.
Pope John Paul II going deeper into the real question regarding contraception says that it is “establishing what true progress consists in.” For him it is necessary “to measure man’s progress with the measure of the ‘person.’” “The fundamental problem is the authentic development of the human person; such development should be measured, as a matter of principle, by the measure of ethics and not only of ‘technology.’” (General audience, November 28, 1984)
Another idea behind contraception is Cartesian dualism. Descartes, by arbitrarily denying the existence of the external world, obviously finds as evident that he is still a thinking subject. He then goes to affirm that human beings are such inasmuch as they have consciousness. After concluding this, he has trouble explaining the role of the human body, thus alienating the human body from the human person. Some have taken this to its ultimate ethical consequences. You can do whatever you want “with your body” and as long as you, as a thinking subject, do not consider it wrong, it won’t be wrong.
What would a wife think of her husband if he catches him with another woman and he says, “Oh, don’t worry what I do with my body doesn’t change the fact that I love you.”
The Church has always taught that the human person is one in body and soul. The body is not something a person possesses and can dispose of as he or she wishes. The body is an essential dimension of the very person.
John Paul II, with his profound knowledge of the human person explains how in conjugal union there is a “language of the body” which expresses reciprocal giving of self as a gift. This self-giving cannot occur without self-possesion and self-dominion: “Man is person precisely because he possesses himself and has dominion over himself. Indeed, inasmuch as he is master over himself he can ‘give himself’ to another. And it is this dimension–the dimension of the freedom of the gift– that becomes essential and decisive for the ‘language of the body’ in which man and woman express themselves reciprocally in conjugal union. Given that this union is a communion of persons, the ‘language of the body’ must be judged according to the criterion of truth.”
“In the ‘language of the body.’ The conjugal act ‘means’ not only love, but also potential fruitfulness, and thus it cannot be deprived of its full and adequate meaning by means of artificial interventions.” He goes on to stress that to artificially separate the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act is to violate “the inner order of conjugal communion, a communion that plunges its roots into the very order of the person.” It is this violation that “constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act.” (cf. General audience, August 22, 1984)
Contraception implies putting technology above God’s law and alienating the human body from the human person. As Catholics we are called to put God in first place in our lives and to “glorify him in our bodies” (cf. 1 Cor 6:20).