August 30th, 2012
FR. C. JOHN MCCLOSKEY III
Author Mary Eberstadt’s timing could not be better for her new book on the painful paradoxes of the sexual revolution. TitledAdam and Eve after the Pill and published by Ignatius Press, it appears at an interesting juncture: during a presidential election season, as the nation suffers from the disapointing Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of Obamacare. On top of that, we have HHS’s hotly contested attempt to force all enterprises it deems non-religious (including religiously sponsored charities and schools that offer services to people of all faiths) to insure a range of “health” expenses, such as birth control and sterilization, that violate their beliefs.
Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a prolific writer in conservative and Catholic publications with several other books to her credit. Her latest book, though it resonates in the current political atmosphere, is not about politics but rather about the ongoing impact of the Pill, which in Eberstadt’s opinion has changed, well, everything:
A series of Popes, some of the world’s leading scientists, and many other unlikely allies all agree: No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception. By rendering fertile women infertile with 100% accuracy (sic), the Pill and related devices have transformed the lives and families of the great majority of the people born after their invention. Modern contraception is not only a fact of our time; it may even be the central fact in that it is hard to think of any other whose demographic, social behavior, and personal fall out has been as profound.
Chapter by chapter the author builds her case that the use of the pill has been a disaster, with many undesired side effects that seriously damage the primal institutions of marriage and family whether one sees them as natural or divine in origin. As evidence she cites dozens of well-documented studies, including demographic studies of vertiginous drops in birthrates throughout the world, from Russia to China to Europe or the Americas, that portend social, economic, and political turmoil. Just consider a depopulating Israel, for example, surrounded by dozens of millions of procreating Muslims.
The separation of sex and procreation has also spawned the deadly plague of America’s largest entertainment industry: pornography. The author refers to surveys reporting that “65% of boys age sixteen and seventeen report having friends who regularly download Internet pornography… and another study relates that “watching sex on television predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior,” while a third finds that “men who use pornography have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by ‘real’ women and their sex lives, with their girls or wives, collapse.” In addition, the use of the Pill or other forms of contraception along with alcohol produce what Eberstadt refers to as “the hook-up” culture at ‘Toxic U.” This environment was memorably portrayed in author Tom Wolfe’s novel I am Charlotte Simmons.
One campus psychiatrist has written a book that details the common denominators of his college patients: “drinking to oblivion, drugging, one night sex, sexually transmitted diseases and all the rest of the hook up-culture trappings.” A Washington Post writer reports that hooking up has become the “primary” sexual interaction of the young.
Eberstadt points out that one way to push back Toxic U is to bring back early marriage. The most compelling reason for the hookup culture is not a change in human nature. It is not even a caving in to peer pressure. It is, rather, a perverse efficiency. Students who do not expect to marry anyone they meet in college have no reason to “invest” in their romantic partners. The greatest victims are young women, whose nature is being ignored at great peril—to them. They are weaker constitutionally in the sense that the very behaviors that define “Toxic U—binge drinking and hooking up—are documented and said by all, including remorseful girls themselves, to be more likely to damage girls than boys.”
This book, which is relentlessly and understandably grim in its diagnosis of the damage of contraception to society, strangely and happily presents glimmers of hope through countercultural institutions such as the nondenominational Love and Fidelity (begun, of all places, at Princeton University) and the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), where growth has been particularly dramatic. Founded in 1998, FOCUS has expanded to more than 30 colleges and universities and more than 4000 students. There is also the Evangelical “Christian Union,” formed with the ambitious mission to “reclaim the campus for Christ.”
Eberstadt devotes one thought-provoking chapter to the connection between food and sex, two normal appetites inevitably linked to survival of the individual and of the human species. She points out that “up to just about now, for example, the prime brakes on sex outside of marriage have been fear of pregnancy, fear of social stigma and punishment, and fear of disease. The Pill and its cousins have substantially undermined the first two strictures, at least in theory, while modern medicine has largely erased the third. As for food, one technological revolution after another explains the extraordinary change in availability…. One result of this change in food fortune is the unprecedented, ‘disease of civilization’ known as obesity.” The parallels are obvious. In both cases the misuse through technology of natural appetites has turned these basic goods into enormous health problems, not only in terms of disease but also in unexpected and harmful social behaviors.
This relatively lean book relies heavily on secular sources. Likewise, Eberstadt analyzes the culture from a primarily secular perspective as she charts the horrors that have been unleashed upon the world and particularly the United States as a result of separating sex activity from procreation. Nonetheless, her book is written largely to vindicate the most controversial Catholic encyclical of modern times—Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae,issued at the height of the culture-changing 1960s. As Eberstadt puts it, “Forty plus years after ‘Humane Vitae’ and fifty plus after the approval of the Pill, there are more than enough ironies both secular and religious, to make one swear there is a humorist in Heaven.”
Or as UVA sociologist Brad Wilcox puts it, “The leading scholars who have tackled these topics are not Christians, and most of them aren’t political or social conservatives. They are, rather, honest social scientists willing to follow the data where ever it leads.”
Eberstadt notes that Humanae Vitae “warned of four resulting trends [from widespread contraception]: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.”
Case closed? Suffice it to say that Pope Paul VI will not be receiving a posthumous prize for his vindicated prophecy any time soon. The more important concern now is whether the modern world will survive a populace that kills or abuses its children, enters into sterile and ephemeral marriages, propagates a plague of venereal diseases and poor health conditions such as obesity, and indulges in largely pornographic entertainments.
Hmm, sounds like the fall of the Roman Empire to me.
CE also recommends:
The Differences the Pill Has Made
Adam and Eve After the Pill
Fr. C. John McCloskey is a Church Historian and Research Fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington DC.