Thursday, September 5, 2013

"The Thinking Housewife": Contraception, Birth Rate and The Decline Of Consumerism

Dear Fred,

Thanks for your email.

Like many American "conservatives," "Thinking Housewife" Laura Wood has little interest in discussing the muck of political practicality, much less compromising about it.

Instead, Laura adheres to "Pure Principles" which Christian conservatives consider not only salvific but The Only path to salvation. 

Conservatives look straight at the sun and are blinded by the light. They are seduced by beliefs too true to be good. 

In the late '60s when we were at the University of Toronto, I read a zoological study done in a Michigan wilderness area.  The research examined the sudden disappearance of wolves from an island ecosystem. As soon as the wolves were gone, the deer population soared. Within three generations, their surging numbers surpassed the land's "carrying capacity." Then, unexpectedly, the population not only fell but plummeted by two thirds.

Since contemporary "conservatives" have difficulty conceiving human beings as co-creators of The Incarnation, Laura avoids discussion of biological necessity and the relationship between necessity and human stewardship. (A parenthetical prediction: Pope Francis will address environmental degradation and its anthropogenic causes. Consistent with his namesake, Francis will remind humankind of its indispensable responsibilities to Earth, both personal and political. While mentioning Francis, it also bears mention that Pope Benedict used the phrase "co-creator" to describe the proper role of human beings. See "Pope Francis: Truth Is A Relationship, Not An Abstract Absolute" 

Were he alive today, Gilbert Keith Chesterton would describe conservatives' aggressive ignorance concerning collective, political responsibility as being "plain as potatoes." GKC's intellectual rigor would also persuade him that humankind is either at, or near, Earth's carrying capacity. (Chesterton and his wife - who were happily married - had no children.")

Notably (yet rarely noted) is this curious circumstance: We humans have, in fact, fulfilled a biblical command and are now in complete compliance with Yahweh's enjoinder to "multiply and fill the earth." 

It seems Laura would rather "let God do the dirty work" by making no attempt to prevent humankind from outstripping earth's carrying capacity, thus insuring a kind of calamity that would make God alone responsible for the "sudden" death of billions. "It was God's will, you see..." (Christ's essential command is just too onerous.  /// 

Two weeks ago at Chautauqua Institution, Director of Religion, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, offered this prayer: "Dear God, we pray for peace as if it is your responsibility and not our obligation."

I agree with Laura that contraception -- to the exclusion of child bearing -- can be a significant deprivation of goodness. But we are not talking about "no children" nor the "elimination of consumers." Neither of these outcomes looms. Some distant day we may devise a "steady-state" economy, and in the distant future we might even see something like steady-state population. But for those with eyes to see, the demographic sky is not falling.

Concerning demographic growth and Vatican doctrine, I note that the Church does not prohibit marriage between sterile individuals. In the absence of procreative capability, why does the isolated "unitive" function of sterile couples not corrupt their relationship if, as the church currently teaches, unitive and procreative functions must be joined? (Earlier this year, Margaret Nutting Ralph of Lexington Theological Seminary and St. Meinrad Seminary, published a remarkably even-handed and richly-documented book, "Why The Catholic Church Must Change: A Necessary Conversation."  Her chapter, "Contraception," is exemplary.

The Church's insistence on celibate priests and nuns also demonstrates that not everyone need reproduce. Indeed, the Church would welcome magnitudes more nuns-and-priests to help fill their dwindled ranks. 

Historical Note: "By the 4th century, marriages of nuns were condemned as "more sinful than adultery." The Church also discouraged the marriage of priests but this was not enforced until after the First General Council of the Lateran in 1123. On the other hand, by the 5th century the role of a nun was that of a religious woman who took a vow of chastity and whose duties might include serving in hospitals, giving to the poor, and praying for others..." "Religious Nuns In Medieval Europe" -  It deserves mention that polygamy persisted into the early Christian era and that marriage was not made a sacrament until 1184 A.D. at the Council of Verona. 

It has even been argued - with some validity I think - that clerical celibacy has removed "Christian genes" from "the pool" and that Vatican insistence on celibacy has delayed The Coming Of The Kingdom. 

Rome's fondness for celibacy dates back to the universal expectation among first century Christians that Christ would return "tomorrow... or next week" -- in any event, "really soon!!!" -- thus obviating need for the sullying sex act. See "Why Church Fathers Were So Negative About Sex" -  Note that the universal conviction of early Christians that parousia was "just around the corner" was the first time, but not the last, that the church "got it wrong.")

With the passage of time, human sexuality re-asserted itself and lay people replaced their former belief in imminent parousia with a sensus fidelium eager for connubial bliss. (It is neither accidental nor coincidental that most Christian utterances of God's sacred name take place during love-making which, thanks be to God, gives ready access to near-mystical reverie. "Deus meus!")

Why do History and Science (including the scientific study of sex) have so little resonance with so many Christians? 

Consider the following history and its categorical rejection by American conservatives, not because it is untrue but because acceptance would be ideologically catastrophic.

Often, conservative Christians condemn scientific findings, a case in point being the reality of homosexual activity across the animal kingdom.  

I myself was once "humped" by a male Rottweiler, demonstrating - in unforgettable fashion - that homosexuality also plays out between species.  

Similarly, conservative Christians disdain the findings of modern psychology. 

Admittedly, there is much nonsense in this "discipline," but certain phenomena -- "projection psychology" and "the psychological shadow" -- are not only well-documented and readily observable, but foundational to human experience and human history.

Although most of us ignore "the shadow" and its "projection," interpersonal and political relationships are routinely ravaged by these interactive "reflexes."

Laura's disparagement of Lauren Sandler illustrates this "point." (I wonder... Has Laura ever hosted a discussion of the contraceptive behaviors of her audience? Or would such openness run the risk of revealing discrepancy between "the ideal" and "the real?")

The glibbest way to justify self-righteousness is to spotlight other people's "shadows" and, in the process, avoid one's own. 

Here's the rub...

Since "The Shadow" is always present, it can always be found. 

Typically, relationships fall apart when self-righteous people focus exclusively on the shadow of others. 

When spousal relationships fail, it is almost always due to the denial of one's personal shadow and disproportionate displacement of that shadow onto one's mate. 

This same mechanism operates in the psyches of Christian conservatives when they disparage Islam and Islamics even though offensive Muslims are largely indistinguishable from Inquisitorial Catholics just 500 years ago, not to mention the witch's brew of Christian fundamentalism eager to impose theocratic norms on "democratic" process.

The insidious projection of one's own "shadow" onto "evil others" arises from the intractable fact that The Shadow REALLY exists.

Since human nature is compounded of good and evil, anyone can identify the existence of actual, factual evil in anyone else... in any society... in any human institution. 

Just consider the evil embedded in Barack HUSSEIN Obama. 

When we focus exclusively on "the other's" shadow, not only can "the other" be "damned," but damnation can be proven with real justification! 

Against this backdrop, it is a great boon that Yeshua's teaching focuses disproportionately on recognition and re-appropriation of one's personal shadow. The Nazarene is pellucidly clear that humankind's underlying spiritual disease is homo sapiens' ferocious determination to "see the speck in another's eye when there is an entire tree trunk in our own." 

In this regard, Yeshua's "Woe Passages" may be the most memorable teaching - but most infrequently sermonized - in his entire ministry.

One can, of course, read any widely-revered translation of Matthew's "Woe Passages." 

Here, for example, is how Jesus excoriates the Pharisees in the New International Version -

Increasingly, however, I prefer "The Message," a translation whose wording, while substantively true to the original Greek and Hebrew texts, jolts me beyond "chestnut" complacency.

Matthew 23

The Message (MSG)

Religious Fashion Shows

23 1-3 Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. “The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer.
4-7 “Instead of giving you God’s Law as food and drink by which you can banquet on God, they package it in bundles of rules, loading you down like pack animals. They seem to take pleasure in watching you stagger under these loads, and wouldn’t think of lifting a finger to help. Their lives are perpetual fashion shows, embroidered prayer shawls one day and flowery prayers the next. They love to sit at the head table at church dinners, basking in the most prominent positions, preening in the radiance of public flattery, receiving honorary degrees, and getting called ‘Doctor’ and ‘Reverend.’
8-10 “Don’t let people do that to you, put you on a pedestal like that. You all have a single Teacher, and you are all classmates. Don’t set people up as experts over your life, letting them tell you what to do. Save that authority for God; let him tell you what to do. No one else should carry the title of ‘Father’; you have only one Father, and he’s in heaven. And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them. There is only one Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
11-12 “Do you want to stand out? Then step down. Be a servant. If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you. But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.


13 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to God’s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and won’t let anyone else in either.
15 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.
16-22 “You’re hopeless! What arrogant stupidity! You say, ‘If someone makes a promise with his fingers crossed, that’s nothing; but if he swears with his hand on the Bible, that’s serious.’ What ignorance! Does the leather on the Bible carry more weight than the skin on your hands? And what about this piece of trivia: ‘If you shake hands on a promise, that’s nothing; but if you raise your hand that God is your witness, that’s serious’? What ridiculous hairsplitting! What difference does it make whether you shake hands or raise hands? A promise is a promise. What difference does it make if you make your promise inside or outside a house of worship? A promise is a promise. God is present, watching and holding you to account regardless.
23-24 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
25-26 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
27-28 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.
29-32 “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You build granite tombs for your prophets and marble monuments for your saints. And you say that if you had lived in the days of your ancestors, no blood would have been on your hands. You protest too much! You’re cut from the same cloth as those murderers, and daily add to the death count.
33-34 “Snakes! Reptilian sneaks! Do you think you can worm your way out of this? Never have to pay the piper? It’s on account of people like you that I send prophets and wise guides and scholars generation after generation—and generation after generation you treat them like dirt, greeting them with lynch mobs, hounding them with abuse.
35-36 “You can’t squirm out of this: Every drop of righteous blood ever spilled on this earth, beginning with the blood of that good man Abel right down to the blood of Zechariah, Barachiah’s son, whom you murdered at his prayers, is on your head. All this, I’m telling you, is coming down on you, on your generation.
37-39 “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! Murderer of prophets! Killer of the ones who brought you God’s news! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me. And now you’re so desolate, nothing but a ghost town. What is there left to say? Only this: I’m out of here soon. The next time you see me you’ll say, ‘Oh, God has blessed him! He’s come, bringing God’s rule!’” 
Make no mistake. Pharisaism thrives in every generation and can not be isolated nor anachronized by the persistent conservative urge to project the living shadow of Pharisaism onto the distant past. 

The smarmy logic of self-righteous Christians goes like this: "Pharisees were hypocritical Jews who lived in antiquity. We are good Christian people who live in the 21st century A.D."

Pax tecum


Pope Francis: "Truth Is A Relationship" Not An Abstract Absolute


On Thu, Aug 29, 2013 at 3:38 PM, Fred Owens <> wrote:

Notably (yet rarely noted) is this curious circumstance: We humans have actually fulfilled a biblical command and are now in full compliance with Yahweh's command to "multiply and fill the earth."

The only biblical command we have fulfilled  --

There is limited value in purely theoretical discussions, as you point out, especially when it comes to children. Children are incredibly messy and they poop on theories and make scribbles out of your most careful plans

When it comes to having children, how many is always a wrong question. Have as many as you want.

Think of a party, a room full of people, everyone having a good time -- who would bother to count how many people are in the room? Introduce disharmony and the room is instantly over-crowded

The goal is harmony. To fear or even consider over-population or under-population is more than a waste of time, it is actually a harm. Such thinking about numbers impairs the judgment of young people who are about to become (or not become) parents. 
Dear Fred,

Thanks for your email.

I agree. 

People should have as many children as they want -- within the context of continuing education so they can understand the social and economic implications of having children. 

Here's the rub.

In the absence of contraception -- which I think "The Thinking Housewife" would ban if she could -- people almost never have the number of children they want but end up with the number that haphazardly come their way.

Assuming that people have ready access to contraception - and that ongoing education is a given - I do not fear global overpopulation.

In my lifetime, Mexican women have gone from an average of nearly 7 children to slightly over 2.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan is raising hackles by insisting that Turkish women demonstrate their patriotism by having 3 children rather than the current norm of "2."  

In fact, while studying Turkey at Chautauqua Institution two weeks ago, I learned that Turkish workers are spontaneously returning from Germany and that the Turkish government is pondering incentives to bring even more home. Turkish industry is booming like very few places on earth with an annualized growth rate of nearly 7% since the early 2000s.)

I also agree about the importance of harmony: like you say, inducing fear over global over-population or under-population is not helpful. 

Significantly, Mexican and Turkish women did not decide under master plan aegis to collapse the number of children they're having.

Rather, these women became aware - in the context of their lives - that contraception was a possibility and that fewer children enabled their families to enjoy more educational opportunity, better-and-more-abundant food, improved housing, more income and better healthcare.

This knowledge, coupled with ready availability of contraception, has been enough to make national reproductive rates "steady-state sustainable" over the last 30-40 years. 

Prohibition of contraception (including shame- and guilt-prohibited contraception) will swell populations in relatively uneducated nations until countries like Haiti exceed their territorial "carrying capacity" and "the whole shebang" goes bust.

Please consider an attempt to persuade Laura to encourage her correspondents (and herself) to speak (albeit anonymously) about their own use (or non-use) of artificial contraceptives. I suspect her correspondents do not deviate much from the frequently cited statistic that more than 90% of Catholic women use artificial contraception at some time in their reproductive lives. 

Ah! How easily we fault youthful passion (once it's behind us)! (Enter Augustine... who, brilliantly, went on to say, "Love and do what you will.")

If nothing else, it would be good if Laura prompted her correspondents to consciously confront their "contraceptive status" in a "social setting" -- rather than sweeping it under their "mental rugs." A tonic effect will obtain even if members of her "circle" decline to state their views.

Pax tecum


FRED OWENS writes:
Here is a look at the future for aging boomers. The cause of this problem is arguable, and possible solutions are worth discussing. But the numbers themselves are facts. We did not have enough children to give each one of us a nursemaid and blame who you will, the fact itself is rather stubborn.
It might be worthwhile to urge younger people in their child-bearing years to take heed.
But even so, we aging boomers will have to care for each other, one ancient cripple aiding another, and suffer through it.
Laura writes:
The cause is contraception and the widespread approval of it. America has danced the night away and the hangover has just begun.
Here is an interesting figure from the LA Times:
The ratio of potential caregivers to boomers needing care will sink from 7.2 to 1 in 2010 to 2.9 to 1 by 2050, according to the study.
Hello, Lauren Sandler. Where are you? Oh, here she is, on her couch, representing the joys of sterility.
The economy will also be stagnant in the years ahead because of the aging of the baby boomers, who will be consuming less. Economies rely on consumers. When there are fewer consumers, there are fewer robust businesses. That’s not to say that people should have children to serve as economic widgets, but simply that when people don’t have children, a culture necessarily declines and then dissolves, even though some, such as Ms. Sandler, are very, very happy.

A consequence of widespread contraception is fewer children to eventually serve as caregivers for the aged. I agree this is true, but my question is "What do we do now?" 
Here's an analogy: when the waters are rising we can debate what caused the flood, but it would be more useful to start filling sandbags.
We will soon have a large cohort of aged baby boomers and a shortage of caregivers. Christian compassion compels us to do our best. I will soon be a member of this cohort, having been born in 1946. My intention is to care for others of my own age as much as I am able for as long as I am able. But there is no guarantee, not from gov't. and actually not from family either, that others will be able or willing to care for me when I need it.
My grandparents and great-grandparents had large families. My two maternal aunts and my two maternal great-aunts never married. They stayed home and took care of their parents and lived as spinsters (which should be an honorable title).
Social security was instituted to fill in some gaps because family members do not always show up with a dutiful response. You might argue that this gov't program encourages irresponsibility, but still, under any regime, we will have people who fall through the gaps with no one to care for them.
With aging baby boomers who had few or no children -- we can see this coming. There can be no pleasure in saying I told you so.
I'm not going to worry about this too much. We're all in God's hands. There's people dying in Syria today and they have it much worse than we do. 

On Mon, Aug 26, 2013 at 4:06 PM, Fred Owens <> wrote:
Dear Laura,

Aging boomers  -- The cause of this problem is arguable, and possible solutions are worth discussing. But the numbers themselves are facts. We did not have enough children to give each one of us a nursemaid and blame who you will, the fact itself is rather stubborn.

It might be worthwhile to urge younger people in their child-bearing years to take heed.
But even so, we aging boomers will have to care for each other, one ancient cripple aiding another, and suffer through it.
Fred Owens
cell: 360-739-0214

My blog is Fred Owens

send mail to:

Fred Owens
35 West Main St Suite B #391
Ventura CA 93001
For conservative Christians, nearly perfect is not good enough. Only perfection will do.
Burdened by the perversions of "perfection" (whose biblical referent is better translated as "completeness") Christianity's "heavenly carrot" and "hellish stick" have come to recall The Logic of Terrorism.

In effect, Christianity's threat/reward system represents God as a terrorist who, at "The Last Judgment," will resort to the tactics of never-ending torture. 

Even if it is true that we "condemn ourselves," would not a merciful God have created a Universe in which "moral failures" simply pass out of Existence? In Judaism -- and, lest we forget, Jesus was a practicing Jew -- the post-mortem punishments of Gehenna/Sheol never last more than a year.

To escape the terror -- to escape the terrible threat of eternal torture -- most Christians will do anything.

Hence, Blaise Pascal's observation: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction."

Addressing the Mountain Meadow Massacre, Mormon historian Sandra Tanner (?) observed: "When you are certain you’re doing the will of God, you will do anything." 

We have come to assume that Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada must have been a bad man who knew he was doing bad things. In fact, Torquemada believed he was acting out of high virtue, nurturing the summum bonum, enacting The Will of God.

See: "Americans, Especially Catholics, Approve Of torture," National Catholic Reporter

See: "Trial By Ordeal: A Thriving Practice Into The 17th Century" 

In the presence of palpably good people, we never sense that they are fleeing the clutches of Satan or trying to avoid torment. 
Rather, the lives of palpably good people bubble forth from divine embrace.
Humans cannot contemplate an Eternal Lake of Fire without such intense self-absorption that we cringe in armored postures of self-defense.
It is impossible to dedicate oneself to others' agape wellbeing when crimped and stunted by fear.

In John's First Epistle, we are told "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (Where are biblical literalists when we need them?)

"If your heart is full of fear, you will not seek truth; you will seek security. But a heart is full of love has a limbering effect on the mind." Rev. William Sloane Coffin paraphrase

St. Augustine: "Love, and do what you will."

Dorothy Day: "I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”

Tom Weston S.J.: “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” 

To make one's own agency co-terminous with God’s Will -- with no understanding of irony or paradox -- is not to do God's Will but to create a “cover” for working one's own will without shame, guilt or second-guessing. 

Ursula LeGuin observed that “There are no right answers to wrong questions.”  

And because there are no right answers to wrong questions, the wrong question "Will I be saved?" does not have a right answer.

If you live right, if you love even your enemies, the question of "salvation" doesn't even come up because your present experience of salvation obviates any need for fear-driven questions.

Do not work on salvation - at least not directly.

Instead, work on the enactment of love.

As soon as human beings saddle themselves with essentially terrorizing questions like "Will I be saved?" or "Will I burn for all time, and beyond time, in a lake of unquenchable fire?" we disable our capacity for disinterested love, love which gives itself for love's sake. 
Lacking the straightforward engagement of loving others as our daily bread, "the left hand always knows what the right hand is doing" and we are grievously injured by the resulting calculations. 
We become "calculating" people.


"If You Impose Your Rules For Getting Into Heaven, Know That I Will Tell You To Go To Hell"
(The imposition of one's theological will and complacent self-satisfaction with preaching to the choir.)

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