On contraception

Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.

And, you know, if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraceptive intercourse, and if it could become practically universal where there is intercourse but ought to be no begetting, then it’s very difficult to see the objection to this morality; for the ground of objection to fornication and adultery was that sexual intercourse is only right in the sort of set-up that typically provides children with a father and mother to care for them. If it’s all right to exclude children, if you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don’t mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak-tree but it’s the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married? Restricted, that is, to partners bound in a formal, legal, union whose fundamental purpose is the bringing up of children? For if that is not its fundamental purpose there is no reason why for example “marriage” should have to be between people of opposite sexes. But then, of course, it becomes unclear why you should have a ceremony, why you should have a formality at all. And so we must grant that children are in this general way the main point of the existence of such an arrangement. But if sexual union can be deliberately and totally divorced from fertility, then we may wonder why sexual union has got to be married union. If the expression of love between the partners is the point, then it shouldn’t be so narrowly confined.

The only objection, then, to the new heathen, contraceptive morality will be that the second condition I mentioned — near-universality of contraception where there ought not to be begetting — simply won’t be fulfilled. People just won’t be so careful. And so the widespread use of contraceptives has in fact led to more and more rather than less and less abortion. And abortion is now being recommended as a population control measure — a second line of defence.

Now if this — that you won’t get this universal “taking care” — is the only objection then it’s a pretty miserable lookout. Because, like the fear of venereal disease, it’s an objection that’s little capable of moving people or inspiring them as a positive ideal of chastity may.

The Christian Church has taught such an ideal of chastity: in a narrower sense, and in a broader sense in which chastity is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty. In the narrower sense chastity means continence, abstention. I have to say something about this though I’m a mediocre worldly person leading an ordinary sort of worldly life.

What people are for is — as guided missiles — to home in on God, God who is the one truth it is infinitely worth knowing, the possession of which you could never get tired of, like the water which if you have you can never thirst again, because your thirst is slaked forever and always. It’s this potentiality, this incredible possibility, of the knowledge of God and of sharing in His nature which Christianity holds out to people and because of this potentiality every life, right up to the last, is infinitely precious. Its potentialities in all things the world cares about may be slight; but there is always the possibility of what it’s for.

Now there are some people who want this true end so much that they want to be totally concerned with this and to die to their own worldly, earthly and fleshly desires. It is people who are so filled with this enormous desire and are able to follow it, who pursue the course of chastity, in the narrow sense — this is the point, the glory, of Christian celibacy and virginity and of vows of chastity. I think one has to know about it in order to appreciate the teachings of Christianity about chastity in a wide sense. —from “Contraception and Chastity” in Michael D. Bayles (ed.), Ethics and Population