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Friday, March 23, 2012

Contraceptives, a Newsroom Fracas and Wisdom from St. Peter…

If there is one lesson I learned shortly after my “reversion” to the faith six years ago is to avoid arguing about faith and morality with co-workers who hold different opinions than me in a public setting (i.e. our newsroom), especially before having my morning coffee!

Unfortunately, in the passion of a given moment, I can get a bit emotional, as I was several years ago, when I argued more out of pure fervor for my new found faith than understanding or knowledge, amidst several newsroom colleagues, who, aside from the person engaged in the argument with me, mostly kept their heads down to avoid getting hit by flying mortar.  

In fact, although, I am now far better informed and can express my faith more eloquently, I still suffer from that same tendency.

My wife often warns me that I’ll never win an argument with people if I get too emotional. Unfortunately, I lose a lot of arguments because I can’t help but get emotional (and animated), even when I'm trying to remain calm!

Last week was a perfect example.

The same co-worker that I had had the brouhaha with many years ago, who despite our different views on politics and faith, I regard highly because of her sincere (albeit confused) intentions, was unabashedly lauding President Obama's new 17-minute political ad on his accomplishments to a couple of male interns (although she was talking loud enough for the few of us in the newsroom to hear).

Birth Control Pills
However, as she discussed the video (and I tried to keep my head down to avoid getting hit by flying mortar, which I felt was directed at me), my co-worker started talking about the controversy over the Department of Health and Human Services mandate, which forces Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives, morning after abortion pills and sterilization to employees as part of their health insurance coverage, despite being morally objectionable to the very tenets of the faith.

She then said something along the lines of, "I can't understand why Catholic bishops are so opposed to contraceptives when most Catholic women use contraceptives anyway."

Alright, so at this point, I couln't contain myself any longer. I had to jump in, regardless of who may have been listening, which turned out to be the two interns, who apparently agreed with her, and two other female co-workers, who under their breath, were agreeing with me.

As my voice cracked, like a teenager going through puberty, and I felt the muscles in my chest and arms trembling from my emotion (I really needed coffee!), I stood up and argued across the room that the issue was not about contraceptives, despite what the administration, the left and the mainstream media were trying to make it out to be. The issue was about freedom of religion, which is protected by the First Amendment and was being trampled on by this decision.

She dug in her heals and quickly shot back that it definitely was about contraceptives. She said it was about women's rights to have access to birth control regardless of where they work; whether a Catholic institution or not.

This argument fails to hold water in my book, since no woman was being denied access to birth control before the mandate. There is a CVS, Walgreens, or Planned Parenthood clinic on almost every street corner.

Besides, since when did birth control become a woman's right? When did it become a health issue for that matter?

I can see where a flu vaccine may be covered under a health insurance plan since it helps one avoid getting the flu. What illness does birth control avoid, pregnancy?

I'm sure there are many population control advocates in the current administration (and overpopulation was one of the arguments my co-worker made reference to during our debate, which I flat out reject as a bogus claim) but does the government now consider pregnancy an illness? It's not like the flu that you can just catch. (Oh wait, I may be stepping into Rush Limbaugh territory here, let me step back!)

Then my co-worker brought up a straw man's argument, as if to say that the government has to protect its citizens regardless of religious beliefs, by asking, "How about those faiths that don't believe in blood transfusions, should people be allowed to die because they refuse a transfusion or does the government have a right to step in and determine what is right?"

First of all, I don't know how the government handles these cases but is this really the same thing? How many women have died because they can't get free contraceptives?

Look, although most polls indicate that a great majority of Catholic women (over 90%) use or have used contraceptives at some point of their life, even though the rates are lower among practicing Catholics, despite efforts to discredit and force dissent among Church rank and file over the centuries, Truth is not determined by public opinion polls.

Truth is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Church can't change the Truth. It can only serve to protect and defend it, as it has done for the past two thousand years.

As GK Chesterton eloquently put, "Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashionable."

Let's remember that every Christian church rejected chemical contraceptives up until 1930, when the Episcopal Church, in a highly contestant decision made by the Lambeth Commission, allowed their faithful to use them within married couples.

As a matter of fact, a Washington Post editorial, title Forgetting Religion, published in March 1931, blasted the Commission for doing so:
Carried to its logical conclusion, the Lambeth committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraception would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous.
Soon other Christian faiths started buckling under public pressure and, not long thereafter, there was widespread acceptance of contraception among most Christian denominations, with the exception of the Catholic Church, which like its founder, Jesus Christ, must always stand as a sign of contradiction in society.

In his controversial and much maligned encyclical in 1968, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI prophetically warned about the dangers of artificial birth control on society.
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that 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.
The legacy left by the 1965 legalization of artificial birth control in the United States is hard to argue with.  It led to the sexual revolution, ramped infidelity, divorce rates skyrocketed, and a boom in children born out of wedlock. The porn industry exploded. Because contraceptives are not foolproof, it also led to the legalization of abortion. The American family suffered greatly and, as a result, society fell into moral decay.

HHS Mandate Announcement
Still, as I stated earlier, the HHS mandate goes beyond contraceptives, abortifacients and sterilization, it is an unprecedented encroachment on the moral conscience of people to practice their faith the way they believe. In fact, it imposes secular moral standards on the tenets of a faith and would force a faithful Catholic to go against their beliefs in order to abide by the government requirement.

Interestingly, while recently reading Archbishop Charles Chaput’s book, Render Unto Cesar, I came across a quote by President John F. Kennedy that he delivered during his famous 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, where, in order to quell anti-Catholic sentiment at the time, he basically made faith a private matter and told the ministers that his faith would never interfere with his decisions if elected president.

Ironically, this is the same separation of private and public faith used by President Obama when he announced the “compromise” (which if you didn’t know was made without the Catholic bishops’ input), where he stated that it would give people the “freedom to worship” as they see fit while still providing women the right to access contraceptives.

In the 1960 speech, then presidential candidate Kennedy stated: “If the time should ever come, and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible, when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.”

As I read somewhere recently, there is a fundamental difference between freedom to worship, as President Obama called it, and freedom of religion. Freedom to worship is what Kennedy referred to, a private matter that may be contained to about an hour a week in a house of worship. Freedom of religion is the ability to practice one’s faith 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

In other words, being faithful to our religion is not about what we do, it is about who we are.

Anyway, going back to our newsroom quarrel, after several minutes of passionate exchange, my co-worker decided she had had enough and said she was leaving and walked out, leaving one of the interns to try to continue her argument for a short time.

She wasn’t going to convince me and, unfortunately, I did nothing to convince her. It was as my wife points out; an exercise in futility with no winner or loser.

After reflecting on the episode, I was reminded once again of St. Peter’s First Letter, where he writes, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The first part I may have down pat. Although, I’ll never know enough or have enough wisdom, for the most part, I am relatively prepared and can give an explanation for my hope. It’s the second part that I am still working on and have a long way to go…


Robert said...

I know the feeling of being involved in office arguments all too well, Carlos. Don't feel happens to the best of us. Why do they always seem to happen before the morning coffee kicks in? LOL.

BTW, I'm also reading Abp. Chaput's book on my daughter's Kindle. Saw it on your reading list a few weeks ago and decided to get it. Good read so far.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thanks, Robert.
Yes, Chaput's book is very good. It gives a great history of religiosity in America.