Help! Help! Humanae Vitae isn’t a rigorous logical treatise!

I don’t know anything else about Paul VI, so I don’t know if this was on purpose, or whether it tried and failed to make a logical argument. But whether it was intended to be a logical treatise or not, it isn’t one; so let’s stop trying to present it as one, and let’s stop complaining when we discover that it isn’t one.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

11 thoughts on “Help! Help! Humanae Vitae isn’t a rigorous logical treatise!”

  1. There are other ways in which men have indeed lost respect for women, especially in those countries in which contraception was made freely available. There is also much evidence of ways in which women have lost respect for men, and both sexes have lost respect for the value of children. So while I doubt that the lack of encouragement to contracept in Catholic nations was responsible for the lack of respect shown to women there, it does seem that the promotion of contraception in non-Catholic countries has led to vast new opportunities for hostility and even hatred between the sexes, and disregard for children. Those of us living in secular nations have no reason to congratulate ourselves on our handling of marriage and childbearing.

    Meanwhile, I suspect the reason for the illogical nature of Humanae Vitae is that it was in fact making a concession in promoting the use of periodic abstinence specifically in order to limit the size of families. While it has always been permissible in Catholic teaching for women and men to refuse intercourse, periodic abstinence was never recommended as a way to prevent pregnancy by avoiding it with an eye to avoiding pregnancy. If a family was too poor or parents too ill to risk pregnancy (or the spread of disease), they were expected to abstain from marital relations until conditions changed. Full stop.

    Indeed, science lacked the knowledge to know when a woman’s least fertile days were until the 20th century, IIRC. My reading of the history of this subject (I’m a historian, not a theologian) suggests that the Church would never have countenanced the use of this form of abstinence, before the second half of the 20th century. That may be why Paul VI’s document seems logic-challenged: it was breaking with precedent, and he knew it.

  2. Although I HV does not directly touch me. I’m unmarried, (probably) infertile and (probably) have a religious vocation. HV still disturbs me. I hate it when something does not make sense. It is (so far) the only church teaching i ever came across that made no sense. Even the trinity makes much more sense than HV.

    Of course I applaud everybody that manages to follow HV. However I simply feel very uneasy about having such an unreasonable thing in our church. If it would at least allowe for some exceptions.

  3. One of the most important things that the internet has done for my perspective on this, is to read some of the gnarly stories other people publish. I’d always been a proud defender of HV (still am!) –because I could afford to be a defender of HV, ie I didn’t have some crazy disease that might kill me if I got pregnant, and I had a support network to back me up if things went south with my husband’s job.

    Suddenly I found myself reading pleas for prayers when Jen Fulwiler was pregnant. She could have died, and she had so many little kids already. Then there was this woman named Dolly who writes in the com box at Melinda Selmys’ blog who was suicidal, had a disabled baby and NINE young kids, and a marriage in shambles. Countless other women have become the financial backbones of their families –I get that exceptions aren’t what we base laws on, and I never thought that *I* was an exception, –or was looking for one. But don’t you think God would allow for exceptions? I’m inclined to think that in certain cases he would.

    I had the luxury not to panic if my sloppy NFP didn’t work–kids nicely spaced roughly three-four years apart. The poorest women get a bump up on a welfare check if they get pregnant. Can we really be playing on the same field as the ones who might die or have a zillion little kids already depending on them (bad planning –but that’s life) or the ones who simply can’t bow out of being in the work force or they will lose their homes?

    I’ve stopped galloping across the field waving my HV flag. Don’t get me wrong–I’m a fan of HV. I support it, but it seems to me, that the pope could write something that would bring a bit more mercy and clarity for those that really are in difficult situations, to help them prioritize things and put problems in perspective. Sometimes a struggling marriage needs a little life support before it gets back on its feet again. No?

  4. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that an important church document engage with reason and logic. Catholicism is a faith that proclaims the inextricable link between faith and reason. The dignity of human life is not a Mystery. It is a premise that can and should be supported with logic. If the dignity of the human life does not depend logically on contraception, then we should be able to conclude that the faithful laity can examine their conscience and prayerfully decide for themselves.

    1. True, but that’s why Simcha cited several other sources. Not every (not most, actually) Church document is a comprehensive statement on the “why” of whatever teaching it’s about, sometimes (like with the early formulations of the Creed) because that hasn’t been hammered out yet, sometimes because it gets too lengthy and needs different books explaining in different ways. Neither means there is no reason or that the Church is ignoring reason, just that not every document can be the Only Source of The Reasons.

  5. I don’t find anything new in HV, like I don’t fully understand the Trinity and several other theological subjects. I’m also not sure about many aspects of contract law.
    But I do understand obedience to law, Church or civil. If you want full participation in any enterprise you need to obey its laws, even if you don’t fully understand them.
    You can study, debate, discuss and protest for change but in the end (even if disagree) it’s either obey or not, full participation or not.

    1. That’s one approach to laws. It’s not one that I see a lot of in the real world, even in America, which likes laws as a society. In America, I see people not report income, drive while texting and skip out on jury duty, all while considering themselves good citizens.

      I think the argument that the law is the law is not one that motivates many people. If they see that the law makes sense in their lives, you have more of a chance of getting people to buy into it. Most people have not seen or don’t value the esoteric rewards of HV over the reality of their lives.

  6. But HV does make some purported factual statements and also predictions which are based on purported facts, and those facts can be easily proven to be completely false. HV predicts that contraception will allow men to ‘lose respect for women.’ Men, especially Catholic men, had no respect at all for their wives’ intelligence or competence before 1968. (Catholic countries all lagged far behind Protestant ones in giving women the vote. Catholic countries have also lagged far behind in women obtaining positions of power in government and economics. Witness the complete lack of women prime ministers in Spain, Italy, and France. One in Brazil and one in Argentina, both later deposed and then subjected to stupid trials on charges that no man would ever face.) Women have achieved more since that year in public life than in all the previous 10,000 years of human history. If Paul VI based his opinion on such an obvious falsehood, why should anyone believe anything else he says?

    And before anyone notes, yes, Catholic schools educate lots of women, in countries where there are no other schools and the government provides no alternative. The question is whether those schools teach the women anything but housewife junk?

    1. Ooh, I can imagine a great study being done on the rates of rape, female poverty, and other measures of respect for women between Catholic nations that ban birth control (the Philippines comes to mind) and countries that make birth control widely available. I wonder what we’d find out.

      1. I would donate to that study.

        FWIW, I adamantly believe that birth control should be ENTIRELY the individual person’s decision. I work against restrictions on access, and if any government wanted to required it, I would loudly oppose that law as much. (FWIW, I have actually written letters in opposition to American cooperation with China’s one child policy, not that they did one tiny little bit of good, but still.) If a woman wants to follow Catholic policy, great. If not, we Presbyterians and Episcopalians have some nice churches as well. None of this changes the fact that HV is poorly argued.

    2. Karen, you need to do some proper reading on Dilma Rousseff and Cristina Fernández (who was NOT deposed) before you put fingers to keyboard about them.

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