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The Reactionary Utopian
August 21, 2008

A Prophecy Fulfilled
The Wisdom of Humanae Vitae
by Joe Sobran

Forty years ago, in 1968, I was a young father of two — and hoping for more — children, when Pope Paul VI issued his explosively controversial encyclical Humanae Vitae, merely reiterating the Catholic Church's inflexible opposition to contraception. All "progressive" opinion, much of it nominally Catholic, immediately condemned it; we were being warned of a "population bomb" as alarming and as apparently authoritative as today's warnings of "global warming." We were breeding so fast, the experts assured us, that mass starvation lay in the near future.

I had dropped out of the Church a few years earlier, my faith being feeble and my will fickle, but I was by instinct on the side of the Pope. The more babies the better, I always felt. And at a time when coverage of the Second Vatican Council was broadcasting the impression that the Church I still loved was suddenly succumbing to every modern trend, something in me rejoiced at this show of reactionary integrity. Just as so many others were abandoning the Church as I had done, I found myself being drawn back in.

I was never one of those who left the Church out of resentment. On the contrary, I left with regret; I just couldn't believe in the whole thing, though given its premises, all the rules seemed rational and reasonable. Most of the apostates, heretics, and dissenters struck me as almost incredibly petulant. Imagine quitting such a beautiful faith, such a glorious tradition, because you were not getting your way on a point or two! In many cases the logic of the dissidents seemed to run like this: "This pope won't change the sexual rules to suit my wife and me; ergo, God does not exist." Even the fanatical Albigensians made more sense than that.

So I returned to the Church during the inspiring pontificate of John Paul II. I was still sinful, but I fully realized that when I violated God's law the fault lay with me, not with the law.

Meanwhile, the secular world continues to revile Paul VI and Humanae Vitae. Yet, as Mary Eberstadt has written in First Things, it has proved one of the most prophetic documents of the last century. The sexual revolution has been, as that pope foresaw, a disaster for mankind. Miss Eberstadt cites abundant empirical evidence vindicating that encyclical.

Strange as it may seem, nearly all Christians used to agree that contraception is contrary to God's law. This began to change in 1930, when the Church of England decreed at its Lambeth Conference that married couples might licitly use contraceptives in cases of hardship. Other Christians were shocked, discerning that the floodgates had been opened by this first fatal concession.

One might mention countless baleful results, such as the current demand for sodomite "wedlock." The real sexual revolution, however, occurred not in the noisy or flamboyant homosexual precincts, but quietly, in the marriage bed. Everything else is an offshoot, a byproduct of the compromise of the marital act, a perversion that has become the norm in the "advanced" countries of the West. In view of this, the perceptive homosexual advocate Andrew Sullivan has gloated, "We are all sodomites now," and he is not far wrong. Gay activists are merely acting out the logic of non-procreative hedonism. Despite their radical affectations, they are winning easy acceptance from conventional people who see nothing amiss or morally dubious in sensual pleasure for its own sake.

Most people merely drift with their times, and they readily accept evil so long as it wears the guise of normality and convention. "Satan's cleverest wile," said the French poet Baudelaire, "is to convince us that he doesn't exist." And this purpose is half-achieved as long as we picture him as a cartoonish figure with horns, trident, and red tights. If he were that obvious, whom could he ever deceive? But he and his legions seem to be holding their own with Jesus' disciples as fishers of men; at least I do not think their nets are often empty.

The chief beneficiaries of the sexual revolution have always been lecherous men, eager for irresponsible self-indulgence without the duties of fatherhood. The funny part is that when the Catholic Church simply repeats the balanced morality she has always taught, largely inherited from the ancient Jews, the modern world accuses her of being "obsessed with sex."


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