Kyle Cupp argues that most Catholics do not believe that contraception is a sin because sin has to harm human life and solidarity and few believe that contraception does this. For my own part, I’m convinced that it is a sin, though I don’t know that I could ever come up with an argument that would be as convincing as I am convinced. But here it goes:
1.) All human happiness and solidarity will ultimately be in the Church, and contraception separates one from the Church. The argument will obviously only convince already convinced Catholics, but this was Kyle’s target audience. Human solidarity is not national or tribal or sectarian, but rather is only actual to one who is actually incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which Catholics identify with the Church. This does not give any reason why the Church thinks that contraception is a sin – it doesn’t even require that they have any reasons of the sort that could be given in philosophical argument, and given the intimacy and profundity of the sort of desires and we are dealing with here it is not obvious that philosophy is the best tool to reach them – but it does draw a connecting line between separating oneself from the Church and the rejection of ultimate human happiness and solidarity.
This solidarity if the Church is not simply eschatological, as though we did not have some participation in it even now. The Church has proved itself a uniquely well-suited instrument to affect solidarity among peoples and nations. One would be hard pressed to identify any institution that has proved itself as good at maintaining a uniform character while managing to adapt to different nations, races, cultures, ways of life, and diverse eras spread over centuries.
2.) One cannot have solidarity with something while crippling and frustrating the source of its continued existence. One who contracepts differs from those who abstain* and/or are infertile in that he actively cripples and frustrates the source of continued human existence. Human existence isn’t maintained by storks, after all, and even if it were it would be pretty easy to see the act of shooting storks or clipping their wings as an act against the source of human life.
This argument more suggests the direction of critique rather than taking one all the way – to keep up the stork metaphor, one might object that shooting a few might make good prudential sense, something like a controlled hunt or a pruning of an overgrown ecosystem. I don’t dispute that this is necessary, I only think that abstinence as opposed to contraception is the morally preferable way to do so, not just for the reason just given, but also because contraception is a degraded and inhuman way to deal with the problem. We spay and neuter pets because we take it as given that they don’t have the power to control their desires, still less that, like human beings, they can come to take pleasure in controlling them. But even though contraception is in some sense a control of ones fertility, it is not a control of desire – contraception, in fact, is an obstacle or impediment to learning to control desire and so an obstacle to the virtue that alone makes for human happiness. Chesterton’s observation still bears repeating: “the problem with birth control is that there’s no birth and no control”.
3.) Contraception frustrates and cripples sexual unity between spouses. All solidarity is a sort of unity, but sex only unifies by joining two persons into a single reproductive entity. This single entity might happen to be unable to reproduce, but there is all the moral difference in the world between being infertile and causing infertility – the two are as different as someone dying and causing someone to die.
4.) My experience. Even after I try to correct for my own confirmation bias and the limits of my own experience, I’m still pretty convinced that contraception and surgical sterilization warp and wound ones character. The contraceptors I know tend to betray a horror and disgust with children. This does not mean they fail to love their own kids, but I’m uncomfortable with the number of times I hear them talk about escaping from childbearing as though they narrowly escaped from some terrible catastrophe. There is something grotesque in the couple saying “Oh, we’re done” without a hint of sorrow and without even a thought for what they passed up on. Maybe it’s true that it would be imprudent to have more, but why no sadness about it? Do you really think that if you could meet and live with the children that you are passing up that you would be so emphatic about making sure they could never exist? Why is it that it is so common for people to look at a large family as though it were an oppressive burden resulting from bovine stupidity about “where they come from” and not as a group of endlessly fascinating different personalities whose presence gives one so much to live for?
*Throughout the post, this refers both to those who abstain continuously or periodically.