German philosopher Nietzsche [1844-1900] declared the death of God. The God he wanted to kill was actually the Christian God. Nietzsche hated the God of Jesus as much as he found Jesus effeminate. The Christian God was against the human body and its passions, especially sexuality, according to Nietzsche.
But it was not really Jesus who made sexuality a loathsome aspect of human life; the later fathers of the Church did the trick. The second/third century African father, Tertullian, wrote thus about women:
Do you (woman) know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him [Adam] whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You so carelessly destroyed man, God’s image. [emphasis in the original]
Later, another father of the Church, Augustine of Hippo [354-430 CE] argued that God had condemned humanity to eternal damnation because of Adam’s sin. He declared that the guilt [original sin] was passed on to all human beings through the sexual act. For Augustine, the sexual act is polluted by “concupiscence.” Concupiscence, for Augustine, meant the desire to take pleasure in God’s creatures rather than in God himself.
A few days back, the New York Times reported how one Father Landry is repeating the words of the ancient fathers in 21st century. Father Landry was speaking about contraception. The Catholic Church is opposed to all forms of contraception except ‘natural family planning’; i.e., “using knowledge of a woman’s cycle to restrict intercourse to times when she is unlikely to conceive.” This method is so unreliable that it came to be known as ‘the Roman roulette’ even among the Catholic clergy. [I don’t know how many of the clergy actually lost out in that game of roulette and sired children without proper paternity.]
Why is the Church so vehemently opposed to contraceptives? The Church thinks that the sexual act is an expression of love between the couples and its explicit purpose is procreation of offspring who are, again, an expression of love. Contraceptives convert people into mere objects of pleasure. Sex becomes merely an entertainment.
There is something radically fallacious about this stand of the Church. If the Church advocates ‘natural family planning’, it means the Church is not theoretically opposed to birth control. You can make use of your knowledge of the feminine menstrual cycle in order to plan the number of children you may have. But you cannot use artificial birth control methods for the same purpose. So what is opposed in reality. Not the birth control, but the means. In other words, the Church is actually not opposed to birth control, but to artificial contraceptives. The logic behind such a stand is as mysterious as most doctrines in theology.
I can, however, accept the Church’s position that sex is not merely a form of entertainment. The sexual act is an expression of a relationship between two persons. It is not using each other’s body merely for pleasure. The sexual act is a union of two individuals in the tenderness of love. Without love, the act becomes frivolous and degraded.
The demand for banning contraceptives in order to remedy the contemporary degradation of sexuality is as ridiculous as asking to ban medicines in order to remove diseases. The degradation of sexuality is part of the many ills that plague contemporary civilisation. It is part of a whole complex social reality in which relationships have been rendered superficial, leisure is valued higher than meaningful activity, enjoyment is the motto of life, and people have been converted into objects (commodification).
What the world needs today is not a war against contraceptives, but a reorientation of values and principles. At any rate, asking parents today to bring up all the children they will have as a consequence of practising ‘the Roman roulette’ is a cruel joke. Parents are already struggling to bring up even one child, with everything from education to health becoming expensive commodities.