The response to the HHS mandate concerning insurance and contraception has been shocking to many, as they realize that there is a yawning rift in the American population between those who understand the Constitution and those who don’t, and between those who consider sexual morality an important element of our cultural fabric and those who don’t. For as many who wish to confine the discussion to that of religious liberty—which it clearly is—there are those who welcome this timely discussion concerning the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics. In all honesty, how often will we find millions of people pondering the topic—not only focusing on it, but thrashing it with a passion that borders on obsession?
It’s been distressing, though, to follow these discussions, for it quickly becomes obvious that the average American has quite a disparaging view of authority. Most resent any who would insert themselves into their decision-making process, because each person’s choices are deeply personal and the result of a ritualized blend of relativism, utility and sentiment. Various transcendent views may be thrown in the mix, but they’re usually not subject to any recognizable creed—for such a static approach to life would prove stifling.
Ultimately, that classic American icon—the rugged individual—reigns supreme, and sadly, that individual has determined that sexual libertinism is his right. Not only has he resolved that he has the right to be promiscuous, but his promiscuity must be barren and uncomplicated. The supreme irony is lost on this principled individual, of course, that other rugged souls—the Catholic’s—have their own principles which proscribe them from subsidizing his behavior, and in light of this brazen thick-headedness, we must ask why.
The answer lies in effects of sin in our lives. The Church teaches that original sin has three consequences: it results in disordered passions, a weakening of the will, and the darkening of the intellect. As we consider those effects in the abstract, we must conclude that a country which has countenanced the killing of millions of babies and shows no signs of adjusting its legal code, which has such a deeply confused understanding of marriage that it is attempting to legally redefine it, and which refuses to differentiate between virtue and vice in the formation of its children is very, very far from God. And a society that embraces such depravity must be populated with many deeply confused individuals.
That is why when reasoned arguments are raised concerning the rights of conscience and the power of the state, they are met with hysterical screeds about religious bullies. Furthermore when legislation is crafted to guarantee that those distinct rights are protected, obfuscation follows, shifting the argument to fiscal concerns and the popularity of Catholic teaching—both non sequitors to the issue at hand.
Truthfully, prudence and respect for others can bring people to widely differing views, and a republic should be able to deal with them peacefully. Unfortunately, when sober propositions about ethical principles are met with frenzied passion, it confirms that this question of conscience cuts two ways, and those who cannot discuss the topic rationally may indeed have a problem with conscience—their own.
The Church’s understanding of sexual intimacy is built on self control, human dignity and theological consistency, and yet each of these is a hot-button issue with those who deeply resent the existence of any moral authority in their midst. Therefore, in listening to the shrill arguments that seek to drown out the very concerns of others, we’re facing far more than a problem with contraception, for when God loses authority, everyone’s conscience suffers.