Every sensible man, every honourable
man, must hold the Christian sect in horror.
Because the only reason for sexual intercourse was the bearing
of children, all forms of contraception were regarded as sinful.
There is no scriptural support for such a view. It is a product
of the attitudes of Church leaders. Over the centuries the Western
Churches justified their antipathy to all kinds of contraception
by reference to an Augustinian notion that bodily organs must
be used only for their intended purpose. Contraception was thus
inherently sinful. This view was elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas,
accepted by the Roman Church and endorsed by Protestant leaders
including Luther and Calvin. All mainstream Western Churches
shared this consensus well into the twentieth century.
origins of modern attitudes to contraception are to be found
amongst those whom the Churches regarded as its enemies
although in this case a clergyman helped unwittingly. The speculations
of freethinkers like Godwin and Condorcet provoked Thomas Malthus,
an Anglican clergyman, to publish his famous Essay on the
Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement
of Society, in 1798. This essay not only influenced Wallace
and Darwin in developing evolutionary theory but also prompted
freethinkers to consider humane methods of population control.
Malthus had considered only celibacy and late marriage, but
non-believers quickly realised the benefits of contraception,
which now came to be known after the reverend gentleman as neo-Malthusianism.
Jeremy Bentham had already advocated birth control before the
publication of Malthus's classic work, but now the case for
it was much strengthened. Freethinkers became vocal advocates.
Indeed, almost all of the early advocates of birth control and
family planning were freethinkers. Among them were Francis Place
(1771-1854), Richard Carlile (1790-1843), Charles Knowlton (1800-1850),
J. S. Mill (1806-1873), Charles Bradlaugh, Annie Besant and
Margaret Sanger (1883-1966).
proponents suffered under the law, since Christian ethics considered
neo-Malthusianism (i.e. contraception) both blasphemous and
obscene. In the USA Knowlton was imprisoned under the Massachusetts
Blue Laws for his book The Fruits of Philosophy. As
late as 1914 Margaret Sanger was arrested and gaoled. Her crimes
were to have established a family planning clinic in Brooklyn
and edited a monthly newspaper, called The Woman Rebel,
that advocated birth control. In England J. S. Mill had accepted
the need for contraception after seeing a murdered baby in a
London park. He was imprisoned for distributing "diabolical"
handbills, written by Francis Place, in 1832. Bradlaugh and
Besant were prosecuted in 1877 for reprinting Knowlton's The
Fruits of Philosophy. Another book by Besant, The Law
of Population: its Consequences and its bearing upon Human Conduct
and Morals, written in the same year, later incurred an
obscenity prosecution in New South Wales. In England, the General
Medical Council struck Dr Henry Allbutt off the Medical Register
in 1885 for publishing A Wife's Handbook, which advocated
to traditional Christian teachings, women were dispensable.
It was far preferable for a woman to die in childbirth than
to indulge in something as filthy and unnatural as birth control.
Bertrand Russell cited a case of an Anglican clergyman of his
acquaintance who chose to see his wife die giving birth to their
tenth child*. The reverend
gentleman had been told that she would die if she had another
child, but contraception was not then an option for a good Anglican.
The clergyman got his wife pregnant and she died, as he had
been told she would. No Christian condemned him for killing
his wife. Only freethinkers like Bertrand Russell found his
behaviour reprehensible. Early in the twentieth century it was
already known that simple precautions, such as wearing a condom,
could render negligible the danger of contracting syphilis.
Churches of all denominations deliberately suppressed this knowledge,
on the grounds that it was good for sinners to be punished by
contracting venereal diseases. As Russell pointed out, they
must have held that it was so good that they were willing that
the punishment should extend to the innocent wives and children
of sinners. He characterised the Roman Catholic Church's position
on this matter as "fiendish cruelty"*.
Traditional Christianity, following the
Bible, taught that it was right for children to be punished
for the sins of their parents, so saw nothing wring in
the consequences of babies contracting disease from their
sinful parents. This photograph shows the results of congenital
syphilis before it could be treated by modern medicine.
This goes some way to explaining why Russell regarded
the Church's prohibittion of condoms as "fiendish
the law that regarded contraception as obscene fell into disrepute.
By the 1920s popular attitudes had changed significantly, and
the more liberal Churches performed their customary volte-face.
In the Church of England, the volte-face occurred on
15 th August 1930 at the Lambeth Conference. In the Orthodox
Church bishops abandoned their unanimous condemnation, and now
many urge that the question is one for individual conscience.
In Roman Catholic countries a similar change in attitudes is
currently taking place at the time of writing. In fact there
has already been a discernible shift. No form of contraception
was permitted at all until 1950. Then in 1951 Pope Pius XII
announced to some Italian midwives that God approved the rhythm
method, despite its having been consistently condemned by the
Roman Church before then. The traditional view had been that
all contraception was sinful. St Augustine himself
had said so, and had specifically denounced the rhythm method.
The traditional view had been upheld as recently as 1930 in
the papal encyclical Casti Connubii. Now, suddenly,
the rhythm method was acceptable. As cynical observers noted,
women were suddenly allowed to evade pregnancy by the use of
arithmetic, though it was still a sin to do so by the use of
physics or chemistry.
The Roman Church still prefers that a woman who has a
medical condition that could severely complicate pregnancy,
even causing her to die, should accept this possibility
rather than countenance using contraception. It still
maintains its opposition to contraception, most recently
expressed formally by Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Humanæ
vitæ, and supported explicitly by Pope John
Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI. Contraception
is now acceptable to the reformed churches of the West,
but it was not always so.
At the time of writing there must still be untold numbers
of people around the world suffering from congenital syphilis
because of the desire of both Roman Catholics and Protestants
to see sinners punished. Since the advent of AIDS it has
been widely recognised that the best way to save lives
is to educate people about the disease and to encourage
the use of condoms. The Roman Catholic Church has opposed
both of these measures, and Vatican authorities have stated
that it is better for married couples to risk catching
the virus rather than to wear condoms*.
A cardinal in charge of Vatican social policy has stated
that “to talk of condoms as safe sex is a form of
Russian roulette”. He claimed that condoms may help
spread AIDS through a false sense of security, claiming
they weren't effective in blocking transmission of HIV.
He also reaffirmed that the Catholic Church advises against
people infected with HIV wearing contraceptives”*.
His views were described by the World Health Organisation
as “Extremely Dangerous”. Bishops and archbishops
have explicitly advocated the deliberate fiction that
condoms cause AIDS*.
One Cardinal has carried out public condom-burning ceremonies*.
As late as 2009, the Pope himself speaking in Africa to
the press, claimed that AIDS “cannot be overcome
through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates
the problems" to the outrage of health organisations
throughout Africa the rest of the world*.
The United Nations estimates that up to 83 million Africans
will die of Aids by 2025.
The Irish Republic suffered one of the worst AIDS crises
in Europe, partly because the bishops successfully opposed
attempts to educate the population, and partly because
the Church ensured that the sale of condoms remained illegal.
Another factor was that, because homosexuality was still
illegal in the Republic in the 1980s, many homosexuals
felt compelled to enter into conventional marriages to
Side Effects of Contraception,
according to a Catholic website
Decreased Sex Drive, Self-Esteem,
& Emotional Well-Being
Loss Of Men's Respect For Women
Depression And Vitamin Deficiency
Jealousy And Altered Sense Of Smell
Strokes, Loss Of Bone Density
Heart Attack And Blood Clots
Growth In The Number Of Known Sexually
Increase Of HIV In Africa
Choosing The Wrong Husband
Increased Divorce Rates
Abortion Of Fertilized Egg
Growth Of Islam
Roman Catholic Church is also against artificial insemination,
even using a husband's semen, since this involves the ejaculation
of sperm outside the wife's vagina. Having sexual intercourse
normally, but using a condom to collect the semen, is also not
permitted because the condom is a contraceptive. Setting its
mind to this difficulty in 1987, the Vatican hit upon the idea
of using a punctured condom*.
It is probably fair to say that many Roman Catholics now regard
their Church's teachings as unrealistic.
Contraception provides an excellent example of a general pattern.
The pattern is that a new idea is developed outside the Church.
The idea is inconsistent with traditional Christian teachings,
and so is regarded by all mainstream Churches as inherently
evil (blasphemous, or heretical, or otherwise criminal and depraved).
The idea is advocated and developed by atheists and others whom
the Church regard as its enemies. These advocates are abused,
imprisoned and persecuted by all right-thinking Christians.
Sooner or later the ideas are accepted by the population at
large. As soon as the Churches start losing credibility because
of their stance they find a reason to shift their ground. They
abandon their old positions, turn their coats, and ally themselves
with the victorious reformers. Soon, they are claiming to have
been influential in the reform movement. Generally the first
notable Christians to adopt the new view are credited with being
responsible for the reform, and it is their name alone that
features in popular histories. The Churches generally follow
this same path, one after another: Quakers first, then liberal
Protestants and Anglicans, then Baptists and other nonconformists,
then Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, and finally Christian
Contraception fits this pattern perfectly. The freethinking
pioneers of family planning are now largely forgotten. In England
Marie Stopes has been selected to play the role of Christian
heroine. In fact, Dr Stopes, the only Christian campaigner of
any note, appeared rather late in the day, after the public
was largely converted, and after the persecution of campaigners
had virtually ceased. Most modern Anglicans would be astonished
to discover that their Church has ever opposed contraception.
Within a century a new generation of Roman Catholics may well
be in the same position.
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