Why evangelicals and Catholic leaders are against contraception | Machines Like Us

Annual population percent change in the world....
Annual population percent change in the world. Source: CIA World Factbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do the leaders of some religious groups like the Catholics and now even evangelicals oppose contraception, to the extent of even objecting to health insurance policies covering it? After all, access to safe, reliable, and easy contraception has to be one of the most beneficial advances that society has made. And the fact that 99% of all sexually active women use some form of birth control suggests that women are quietly ignoring the words of their religious leaders.

via Why evangelicals and Catholic leaders are against contraception | Machines Like Us.

An interesting article by Mano Singham.  Let me say upfront that I think the idea of religious leaders sitting in back rooms consciously plotting in some machiavellian way to grow their religion with contraception bans is silly.

However, Singham has a point in that doctrines promoting procreation are one of the reasons for the success of the current world religions.  This isn’t due to any conscious strategy, but due to the fact that religions, like all cultural mechanisms, are naturally selected.

Religions that promote celibacy tend to die out over the long haul, for obvious reasons.  Religions that promote procreation tend to do better over several generations since most believers stick with the faith they were brought up in.  The best way to grow a religion, and for it to endure, is for the believers to have children.

Social psychologists, such as Jonathan Haidt and Ara Norenzayan, as well as many anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists, have discussed these theories in their works.

The problem for modern religions is that the doctrines are now largely being ignored by their adherents.  Contraception gives women control of their lives in way few had throughout history, allowing them to choose for themselves how much of their life is dedicated to being a mother.

This is a good thing in a world with a population growth problem.  I think it’s arguable that the number one problem in the world is population growth, with most other problems being details of that one problem.  In every society where women are given reproductive freedoms, population growth tends to level out, or even to become negative.

It also reflects realities in modern life.  In olden times, having lots of extra children insured that at least some survived through childhood, and provided much needed help on the farm.  But in modern economies, children are an economic responsibility.  It’s not surprising that most families in developed economies stop at two.

Religions were nicely in synch with the old dynamics.  The challenge for them is to deal with these new dynamics.  Change will happen eventually.  The fact that virtually all of their adherents ignore the anti-contraception doctrines insures it.

14 thoughts on “Why evangelicals and Catholic leaders are against contraception | Machines Like Us

  1. Perhaps the only change will be that virtuous families will have, by their own choice, fewer children (if possible) and using Natural Family Planning (without the use of artificial contraceptives). We can choose to do good without the help of harmful drugs.


    1. That sounds like the standard Catholic viewpoint. I have to disagree that people using normal safe contraception are being something other than virtuous. For me to see their actions as a vice, some harm would have to be demonstrated.


      1. You should research the medical histories of all of the women harmed by artificial contraception…and other FDA-approved drugs. Also, consider the conceived children killed by some artificial contraceptives. Also, consider how women become sexual objects because they discover a way to simply extract pleasure from sex rather than love and self-giving and mutual desire to bring life into the world – life which reflects the one with whom they are mating for life.


        1. Whatever that might be (I see no evidence that it’s substantial), it has to be weighed against the harm of withholding it.

          I have no problem if people want to use the methods the Catholic church prescribes. I know many Catholics and evangelicals see it as part of their duty, and I respect that.

          But, for me, that ends when they want to impose their strictures on others. Such impositions haven’t been shown to stop people from having sex, and unprotected sex leads to considerable suffering that could have been easily avoided.


          1. Well, people become extremely obese everyday, and the Catholic Church does not stop them. Nevertheless, obesity is unnatural and unhealthy. People don’t have to eat more than the need. It is the same with sexual relations; people don’t need to have sex more often than their desire or need to have a child. Don’t we need to continue to have policemen and doctors and government leaders and farmers and so on who are loved and beloved of their parents? But many see their “partners” simply as sexual objects, which is not the right perspective.


          2. Hmmm. Your analogy makes me wonder if a technology were developed that let people eat as much as they wanted without weight gain, would the Church be opposed to it?

            I definitely agree that people seeing their partner as only an object is not healthy. Such a relationship rarely lasts. But people are going to do it regardless, often without admitting or even realizing that’s what they’re doing. If contraceptives insure that it doesn’t result in an unplanned pregnancy, or an STD, which would only make the situation worse, then where’s the harm, particularly when substantial harm has been demonstrated from withholding it?


          3. The harm is in the fact that the object of the act is purely selfish (i.e., sex only for pleasure since no life can possible result; eating only for pleasure since no nutrition results) and without true virtue…causing it to become more subhuman than human.


          4. It seems to me though that you are conflating sex without love and sex with contraception. I’ve known too many loving couples who use contraception while caring for each other intensely.


          5. Hmm, my desire to have a child has come into play very, very seldom in all the decades of sexual activity. So would you therefore label me as degenerate, just because I do clearly have a need to have more sexual relations than a need to procreate? Any why exactly can’t humans have sexual relations with consenting partners for the pure pleasure of the act? Who decided what was the “right” perspective? Do you really think that all 7 billion people and all trillions of mammals (not to mention all other fauna) exist only because the respective partners felt a need to “have a child?”


          6. I would not label you as degenerate and it is okay for people to desire and have sex for the pleasure of it. The problem occurs when the marital act becomes simply a commodity and the partner a cold, sexual object to be used, for example, as a receptacle, and then dismissed.

            Sexual activity is meant to be both unitive (between two consenting, married people who have devoted themselves to each other for life and family) and procreative (at least open to life – to the Will of God who creates the new human soul out of nothing). Out of tender loving respect for each other, the married couple should honor each other’s need for sexual communion and also honor each other’s need for abstinence from such union when reason dictates.


          7. This is a common argument: “The problem occurs when the marital act becomes simply a commodity and the partner a cold, sexual object to be used, for example, as a receptacle, and then dismissed.” I have never met anyone in that situation. It’s often brought up by religious people, implying that that’s what non-religious people’s sex life must be like.


  2. In a chapter for ‘”The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior’, Voland/Schiefenhövel(editors) 2009, Michael Blume, Universities of Heidelberg, Leipzig and Jena, contributed:

    ‘The Reproductive Benefits of Religious Affiliation’

    Click to access ReproductiveReligiosityBlume2009.pdf

    … and presented at the Explaining Religion Conference, Bristol University 2010, as described by Susan Blackmore in:

    ‘Why I no longer believe religion is a virus of the mind’

    … and though the groups may seem small looking at numbers:

    ‘Israel’s Coming “Civil War”: The Haredi Jews Confront the Militarized Secular Zionist State’

    … they are going to have profound impact in places.


    1. Interesting articles, particularly the Sue Blackmore one. Thanks!

      On the Haredi, I remember reading something a while back about the Israeli government revisiting the draft exemption for them. It’ll be interesting to see how that ultimately plays out.


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