The Pontifical Commission and How Birth Control Became Known as Intrinsically Evil
Half a century ago, the pope appointed a commission to study the morality of birth control. Multiple choice: What do you think their findings were?
A) Birth control is not “intrinsically evil.”
B) Married couples should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to use birth control.
C) Artificial birth control is an extension of methods of natural family planning already accepted by the Catholic Church.
D) All of the above.
You may be as astonished as I was to learn that the answer is “D.”
After I wrote my essay, “Why I Skipped Mass Today”, I decided to investigate my church’s historical attitudes toward contraception a little further. Let me start at the beginning, shortly after “The Beginning,” with a story from Genesis.
Then Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform your duty as a brother-in-law to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.” Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother’s wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother. But what he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also. (Genesis 38:8-10, New American Standard Bible).
Onan: the first recorded coitus interrupter. I kind of feel bad for him; I am not sure I would want any of my sexual acts recorded for posterity. And can you imagine his Facebook page, if they had such things in those days? “Dude—heard you pulled out! WTF?”
Here is a fuller context of the story of Onan. Judah had another son named Er. God found Er to be, er, evil, and so God took his life. Judah turned to his other son, Onan, and commissioned him with the task of impregnating Er’s widow (Onan’s sister-in-law), thus continuing the family line. And it seems that although Onan enjoyed the act, he didn’t actually complete the job.