This year marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”), which condemned the use of artificial birth control methods. The arrival of the birth control pill in 1960 triggered Pope Paul’s letter, and it sought to stem the tide of the 1960s sexual revolution.
The encyclical was singularly unsuccessful.
A chorus of dissent, even within the Roman Catholic community, followed its publication. A recent account recalls that, within days of its release, a group of American Catholic theologians issued a statement saying, “[S]pouses may responsibly decide according to their conscience that artificial contraception in some circumstances is permissible.”
A year later, a survey found that 44% of Catholic women of childbearing age were using artificial contraception and by 1974, 83% of U.S. Catholics reportedly said they disagreed with the ban. Commentators blamed the encyclical for a decline in people attending mass and for damaging the authority of the papacy, particularly among younger Catholics.
The encyclical also failed to stem the tide of the 1960s sexual revolution.
According to one author,
“[T]he year the Pill went on the market, most Americans lived in nuclear families, the average married couple had four children, and mothers stayed home. By 2000, the average family had two children, one out of two marriages ended in divorce, and almost a third of American children were being raised by a single parent or an unmarried couple.”
Acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation, alternative forms of sexuality and abortion accompanied the trend. In the 2000s, Internet connections facilitated easy access to pornography and dating sites. Smartphone apps such as Tinder encouraged casual sex. However, “hook-up culture” prompted consternation and the #MeToo movement suggested that the sexual revolution had not ended predation but may have licensed it.
These developments prompted Catholic apologists to re-examine Humanae Vitae and assert its “prophetic power.”
Mary Eberstadt, writing in First Things, notes, “The encyclical warned of four resulting trends: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society; a rise in infidelity; a lessening of respect for women by men; and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments” [i.e., China’s one-child policy]. She claims, “[E]ach of these predictions has been borne out by the social facts.”
What Humanae Vitae Teaches
Humanae Vitae describes the “transmission of human life” as “a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.” Based on this core affirmation, the encyclical elaborates three “doctrinal principles” or theologies.
- A theology of marriage. Marriage, according to Humanae Vitae, is not a cultural product but “the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design.” Husband and wife, “through the mutual gift of themselves … develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.”
- A theology of responsible parenthood. The encyclical maintains that responsible parenthood “is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or indefinite period of time.” Husband and wife, “keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”
- A theology of natural law. Humanae Vitae insists on the “inseparable connection, established by God … between the unitive significance and the procreative significance … inherent to the marriage act.” This “fundamental nature” of conjugal relations, according to the encyclical, is “a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman.” According to the encyclical, an act that impairs the capacity of husband and wife to transmit life, frustrates God’s design.
These doctrinal principles or theologies led inexorably to the encyclical’s condemnation of “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse is specifically intended to prevent procreation.” On the other hand, the encyclical affirms the Church teaching that “married people may take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse … during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way that does not in the least offend … moral principles.”
That is the essential teaching of Humanae Vitae. The text anticipates “not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching” but states it is the destiny of the Church, “no less than her divine Founder,” to be a “sign of contradiction.” The encyclical asserts that the Church must not “evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law” and cannot “declare lawful what is in fact unlawful.” It states, “In preserving the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization.”
The front page of L’Osservatore Romano (weekly English edition), the Vatican City state’s newspaper, for Aug. 8, 1968, announcing publication of Humanae Vitae.
The main sources of Unification teaching on birth control are,
- References in Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s voluminous sermons and speeches;
- The “Unification Church View on Contraception,” a short section in The Tradition (1985), a primer on rituals and observances associated with the church’s life of faith; and,
- A more extended treatment in Dr. Yoshihiko Masuda’s True Love, Sex, and Health as Guided by the Words of True Parents (2009).
These convey a mostly consistent teaching though not without differences in tone and recommendations.
Rev. Moon’s theology of marriage and teaching on birth control has a great deal of resonance with that of Humanae Vitae. Marriage, or the “Blessing,” as in Catholicism, is a sacrament (i.e., ordained by God). It also is the vehicle through which husband and wife perfect themselves and generate new lives. In addition, similar to Humanae Vitae, Rev. Moon references natural law, stating, “[O]ur original nature wants to spread and expand our offspring centered on family, which is the origin of moral principles of humanity.” He likewise echoes Humanae Vitae in rejecting birth control as frustrating God’s purposes.
The following is a selection of references from his speeches:
- “If the people of Jacob’s era had practiced birth control, Joseph wouldn’t have come into being.”
- “Heavenly sons and daughters should live more happily than anyone else … Continuously give birth to children. Unification Church members cannot practice birth control. You should bear more than ten children. I will feed them all.”
- “Who knows if the children not born due to the practice of birth control could have become the representatives of all their ancestors or have taken care of the heavenly will on behalf of their nation? If my father and mother had practiced birth control, would I have been born? My mother gave birth to thirteen children.”
- “I am going to forbid birth control to the women of Unification Church.”
- “Recently I have heard reports that people of our church live in a crowded one-room apartment with many children … But those are the best times.”
- “When God sees birth control, He grimaces.”
- “Even if each of you had a hundred children, heaven is so vast that you could never overproduce. That world can accommodate any number of people. Do not practice birth control.”
Like Humanae Vitae, Rev. Moon accepted “natural” birth control but only under extraordinary circumstances. In a 1967 speech to married couples translated by Dr. Masuda, he asked them “to study how to do birth control” based on ovulation cycles and bodily temperature. He offered this advice in the context of “total mobilization” for “restoration purposes,” something Dr. Masuda indicates, no longer applies.
The “Unification Church View on Contraception” section in The Tradition text affirms Rev. Moon’s position but softens it. It states, Rev. Moon “does not stress a negative attitude by considering the use of birth control a sin.” It also emphasizes, “[T]he Unification Church considers marital relations apart from the purpose of procreation as holy.” While noting that artificial forms of birth control “are not favored,” it broadens the use of natural methods beyond “total mobilization” to “special circumstances such as health problems.”
Dr. Masuda, in True Love, Sex, and Health, also affirms Rev. Moon’s teaching but broadens it further in accepting the limited use of birth control pills. He cites a variety of good effects and “their use by tens of millions of women for more than 30 years.” Although pronouncing himself “somewhat hesitant to recommend any type of birth control to those … who can deliver healthy babies,” he indicates he is “somewhat open to the use of contraceptives by young newlywed couples.” For them, he advocates choosing contraceptive methods “as natural, safe, and reliable as possible” and views contraceptive pills to be preferable over condoms or diaphragms “which create an artificial barrier between a man and women’s genitals.”
He expresses openness to “morning-after” pills and even “RU486” abortion pills in the case of rape. However, he rejects spermicides as dangerous, “interrupted sex” as unreliable, and surgical interventions, whether a vasectomy for men or tubal ligation for women, as mostly irreversible should unforeseen circumstances lead couples to desire pregnancy and childbirth again. Dr. Masuda devotes a number of pages to the “Basal Body Temperature” or “symptothermal method” as a preferable means of natural birth control.
Where Does this Leave Today’s Unificationists?
Unificationism is in a position akin to Roman Catholicism. Most Unificationists regard Rev. Moon’s guidance to be authoritative, even revelatory, and he firmly rejected birth control, allowing only the rhythm method under extraordinary circumstances.
However, many Unificationists practice birth control. According to Crescentia DeGoede, Director of the FFWPU Blessing and Family Ministry (BFM):
“The topic of birth control always comes up in the … Education Workshops for … couples preparing for the Blessing. Because of what we understand from True Parents’ teachings, we guide couples to embark on having children at the time when they feel they have a strong enough foundation in their love for one another as a husband and wife to invest in loving and raising children, i.e., work on strengthening their conjugal realm of heart before entering into the parental realm of heart. Based on this, we inform couples about a variety of birth control options, including the natural method, and then encourage couples to discuss what they would like to do, and make the best choice for their couple.” (Email communication, July 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission)
Informing couples of “a variety of birth control options” further broadens Rev. Moon’s teaching. Referring to those unprepared to have children, Rev. Moon stated, “[I]f your body is defiled and you believe that you should not give birth to children the way you are, you should not do so.” However, whether he advocated abstinence or birth control methods is unclear.
In general, adherence to Rev. Moon’s strictures on birth control appears to be a minority position within contemporary Unificationism. One young Unificationist who argued “practical circumstances shouldn’t decide when and how families should grow” and who didn’t “want to plan my family so carefully that I plan God right out of it,” noted that when she became pregnant at 19, “I actually received persecution from other members.”
Grappling with these issues is the task of moral theology, a discipline that identifies principles of human behavior in light of divine revelation. However, moral judgments frequently require balancing competing goods.
In terms of birth control, Unificationism balances Roman Catholic and Protestant positions. Roman Catholicism essentially emphasizes obedience to divine and natural law. Protestantism, as its position on contraception has evolved over the past century, upholds the primacy of conscience. Both of these orientations have resonance within Unificationism.
Unificationists certainly agree with Roman Catholicism as to the sanctity of marriage and the centrality of the family in God’s providential design. At the same time, Unificationism resonates with Protestantism as to the primacy of conscience. Rev. Moon was uncompromising in emphasizing, “Conscience before teacher, conscience before parents, conscience before God.” This elevates human dignity and enhances humanity’s role as “co-creators.”
The Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Church similarly mediates between Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, having strong doctrines of the family and human co-creatorship. Their policy on birth control states:
“The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.”
Unificationism does not have a policy on birth control. Given controversy in the United States over Supreme Court nominees’ views on reproductive rights, ever-expanding global population, continuing advances in genetic science and technology, and increased participation of women in public life, it may be incumbent upon Unificationism to craft such a policy as it develops its reflections on moral and pastoral theology.♦
Dr. Michael Mickler is Professor of Church History as well as Vice President of Unification Theological Seminary, and Director of the SunHak Institute of History, USA. His books include: Footprints of True Parents’ Providence: The United States of America (2013) and 40 Years in America: An Intimate History of the Unification Movement, 1959-1999 (2000).
I wonder how many Unificationists of reproductive age will read this article; it would be interesting to have feedback and opinion from this age group.
Yes, it is clear that birth control is being practiced — there are many young couples who have delayed and are delaying childbearing until, in some cases, years after the Blessing. They must (very wisely, in my opinion) be taking True Father’s words with a pinch of salt. And I don’t think they are all using the somewhat unreliable “rhythm method” — a/k/a “Vatican roulette.”
I did not know Dr. Masuda, but his advocation of OCP (oral contraceptive pill) before barrier methods is irrational and reflects his own personal opinion. The “best” method depends on the situation/health/personal preferences of any individual couple.
Unificationism would be well-advised to follow the sensible example of the LDS Church:
“The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.”
Thank you, Catriona. I agree with you and Rob Sayre’s comments that the blessed couple is responsible to make their own decisions about whether and when to conceive a child. We don’t need a policy that infringes on the freedom of blessed couples and their privacy in managing their lives. The best that our church can do is provide responsible information and marriage counseling for couples to consider their choices. I think Crescentia DeGoede’s response is good and acceptable. To have a more constrictive policy would be unnecessarily divisive.
Regulation of the sexual union through dogma and doctrine seems antithetical to the teachings of the DP. It is simply unreasonable to expect a vibrant relationship between a couple and that couple with their God to be regulated. If indeed the sexual union is to be the most sacred act for humans to engage in, how can doctrine limit that intimate act with parameters?
God is all creative, alive and fully involved in each moment of our lives as well as the fruits of all our endeavors. How can any dogma pertain to all people, in all situations, for all time? It is difficult enough for couples to maintain lifelong healthy and passionate intimacy due to emotional, physical and cultural constraints. Let’s not hamper the experience through narrow-minded doctine.
Dr. Mickler touches upon an important topic and I think he’s absolutely right in stating that “Unificationism” (does that term encompass more than the FFWPU?) needs to articulate a clear policy on birth control.
I appreciate his systematic approach and the list of authoritative sources that inform the Unificationist perspective on sexual morality and health. I would, however, take Dr. Masuda’s work with a good grain of holy salt. Sure, the man was given the mission by Rev. Moon to do research on sexuality. But his book is packed with questionable references (I mean, how reliable are stories of Hollywood stars’ sex lives?).
A more comprehensive and nuanced medical perspective is paramount to properly evaluate the moral pros and cons of the contraceptive pill. There are huge differences among the pills that are out there in the market with different effects on a woman’s hormones, which may more often than not have repercussions on her mental and emotional health. Some studies suggest that hormone treatment negatively affects the level of a woman’s sexual attraction to her man. Another consequence is the increased risk of intense mood swings and even depression. And did you know that female libido tends to get messed up, too, when she takes the pill? (Now, what’s the point in controlling birth if you risk losing your personality?)
One point that wasn’t touched by Dr. Mickler concerns the incredible profit that (predominantly male) pill producers have been making since the 1960s. Thus, the question of birth control can and should be viewed from a critical market perspective. After all, businesses influence the politics of information.
And then there is the high probability of an environmental impact caused by hormonal contraception, which is leading to the reduction of fish populations (although apart from estrogen-based contraceptives for humans, veterinary estrogen and other industrial chemicals factor in as well). What would the informed messiah say about that?
Certainly, there can be no one-size-fits-all in this area where morality, health, economic and environmental questions intersect. But I would also argue that even non-Catholic religious communities should dare to be a “sign of contradiction” and openly declare God’s plan of creation — regardles of the popularity thereof. Some things are true even if people don’t like to hear it, e.g., “stop messing with your hormones, be your true self, find true love and fill the earth with children of God.”
I hope your article receives the attention of Unificationist leadership it deserves.
Many years ago, after attending Rev. Ahn’s 40 Day workshop, my wife and I were contemplating having more children. During his workshop, Rev. Ahn seemed to be dissuading too much procreation from our members. At that time, pre-1989, I went to my customary, tried and true “Go ask God”. Shortly afterwards I picked up a “random” speech and turned to a “random” page within the speech. I found my answer: To paraphrase Father, “Never decide whether or not to have children based on your material situation. As a couple you are meant to love another and allow God to decide. I was the fifth child in a poor family. If my parents had thought like that I would have never been born…” Then he went on to talk about Joseph and other providential people who may not have been born under those circumstances.
I long ago realized that God’s answers were to my specific prayers and did not necessarily apply to all. I am guessing that many of Father’s quotes were in in a different “age” of TP’s course and reflected his conscience during that age. We are now in a different age of “substantiation” and “True Parentism,” and the age of leaders has long passed. Our leader is meant to be our own conscience which we develop and keep sharp through prayer, HDH and intuition.
I will suggest to my family and tribe to develop their own mature conscience. “Conscience before teacher. Conscience before God. Our conscience knows even before God know.” -SMM
A person of matured conscience no longer needs a pope in order to make decisions. Even so, we have all come to understand, by now, that God is happy to give us suggestions based on Principle, but never coerces us to do anything. As BCFs we are responsible to make our own decisions. But, some may need some guidance along the way.
I will leave you with Father’s great words on conscience:
“What is the most precious thing in human history? Conscience is the most precious, because conscience is the origin of life. Centered upon conscience we can talk about love; and a new element of love comes in.
Throughout history, conscience is also connected to the lineage. Conscience is such a precious treasure for human lives. The conscience is invisible. You have life don’t you? (Yes!) Is it your life? Or whose life is it? (God’s) Universal life or your own private life, what do you think? (Universal). Your mind and body, especially your conscience, belongs to the universe; because it is coming from within the root in the universe it is sharing the root. You ask your conscience, “What kind of ancestor would you like to have? Would you like to have your own father and grandfather, or country or nation and tribe — that kind of ancestor would you like to have? Or would you like to have a universal ancestor?” Your conscience would respond, “Universal, absolutely. Why don’t I belong to the universe and a universal being?…”
“Then what? What is number two then? I don’t know; I’m asking you. I want to hear your answer. What is number two? Number two is love. Conscience is number one, love is number two. The next most important element is love; but love and conscience are virtually one, because conscience exists in love and love exists in conscience. They are working together in one harmony, trying to be number one. Do you know how much love you need? Can you see love? Let me see your love. No one can see the love reality. Love action is a phenomenon. The essence of love cannot be seen; only love can be identified through the phenomenon. It appears through certain loving action. Through action, love can be manifested…”
Thanks for a thoughtful review!
However, there appears to be no such examination of an abortion position. The elephant in the room is abortion. The essay AU should publish would give guidance on the circumstances that would justify abortion. The de facto position of our church appears to be pro-choice.
For principle and health reasons, personally, I prefer natural birth control methods over artificial ones, and once couples are well-informed and educated about the different options, I am of the opinion they should decide according to their own conscience.
Leaving behind the old unreliable methods such as the infamous rhythm method (Knaus–Ogino method), now more modern forms of Fertility Awareness, used both to avoid pregnancy and to achieve pregnancy, the Symptothermal Method (which includes various fertility signs, basal body temperature + cervical secretions + other fertility signs with the aid of computerized fertility monitors) when used correctly and consistently with ongoing supervision and coaching, can be as effective as the contraceptive pill. (See here)
Although these methods have been found to be 99% effective according to some studies, they require a lot of daily effort and discipline, which made them tiresome and not practical for most couples. Plus the fact that health professionals rarely recommended or are willing to supervise such methods; and for obvious reasons, the pharmaceutical industry is not interested in such research much less promoting natural methods.
If blessed couples can pray in their own name, they can make these kinds of decisions for themselves. Being reminded of the sacred nature of the sexual relationship is always valuable, but the couple themselves must own their decisions and the outcomes.
Thanks, Michael. Very nice article.
On the topic of birth control, I lean toward the LDS view you cited: “The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.”
You cite references to what True Father said in years gone by. I’d be interested to hear what True Mother (the co-Messiah) has to say on this subject. It’s one thing for a man to say have 10 children, and it’s another to hear what the woman would say to that. I assume the natural rhythm method is more likely permissible. Perhaps other forms of contraception (i.e., the pill, condoms, etc.) less so, but still allowed.
We Unificationists believe in the sanctity of life, but at the same time, there may be instances of rape or danger to the mother’s health, etc., where abortion is approved. I assume there have been cases where it has been approved (which makes sense to me).
We have seen the loosening of our church’s policies in many areas over the years. For example, when we were matched and blessed in the 1970s and 1980s there were very strict standards (i.e., you must be a full-time church member, minimum three years in the church, completed a 7-day fast, had three spiritual children, etc.) and blessed directly and only by True Parents. Then over the years, it evolved to the point where ministers can bless their congregations (without requiring them to accept True Parents as the messiah or leave their faith traditions and join UC), and tribal messiahs, like me and my wife, where we can bless couples we meet to create our Tribal Messiahship of 430 blessed couples.
Again, it will be interesting to see what Mother may say about this birth control topic, particularly in this day and age of 2018 instead of 1967. Ultimately, I think it’s for the couple’s conscience and health to decide.
Thanks for the comment, Bento.
In researching the article, the only reference to True Mother’s view I found was a comment by Taco Hose. She said,
“Many times the man deals only with the ideal and women deal with the practical. True Mother’s answer to this question was to consider how much responsibility a couple is willing to accept and use common sense!”
A couple of years ago, True Mother altered the Unification position on cremation, accepting it whereas The Tradition book rejects it (see William Selig, “Cremation: An Acceptable Alternative to Burial,” Applied Unificationism, August 15, 2016)
Dr. Mickler aptly outlines the teaching of Catholicism on artificial contraception and its evolving teaching on birth control in general, and he presents well the teaching of Protestantism. Quotations on birth control from Rev. Moon’s talks are well-selected and the guidance from The Tradition is relevant, as its author was well-established as an authority on Unificationism.
Dr. Mickler’s post should be valuable for the life of a Unificationist who reads it. First, we have been called by our co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon to partner with Christianity in advancing God’s providence, and this entails discussion with Christians. Since interest in birth control is particularly widespread these days, it is a likely topic for such discussion, and the post’s information on Christian perspectives will provide valuable background. (By the way, Dr. Mickler slips up in one sentence: it is the Catholic position on contraception, rather than on birth control, that is the same as the Unificationist position.) Second, the compilation of Unificationist sources on birth control should provide valuable guidance for a reader who is a member of a fertile couple and/or may directly or indirectly guide others, including children of an appropriate age. Third, suggestions for a Unificationist policy on birth control, including Dr. Masuda’s and any that may be made in comments on the post, may also suggest such guidance.
Rev. Moon used to urge a form of birth control other than either avoidance of artificial contraception or restriction of intercourse to days when procreation is highly unlikely. He urged the lengthy physical separation of married couples. At some point, Korean leaders waived this when a wife’s age of fertility was expected to soon end.
Dr. Mickler, having answered the question posed in the title of this post by reporting contents of Unificationism’s sources, concludes by giving reasons for Unificationism considering crafting a policy on birth control. It is one of the anomalies of this blog that “Unificationism” mentioned in its title is nowhere in the introduction to the blog defined. The particle ‘ism’ is often used in Unificationist texts to translate the Korean word sasang meaning thought system. In this post, Dr.Mickler seems to be using the term to mean the teachings of Rev. Moon as translated into English and interpreted by official texts of HSA-UWC.
The term ’policy’ immediately suggests proscriptions with penalties for violating them, or prescriptions for behavior, possibly with rewards for following them. The prescriptive policy, or guidance, stated by Ms. DeGoede in this post could not automatically be attributed to Unificationism’s, since BFMs in Korea or Japan may have different policies.
A global policy on birth control issued by FFWPU would mandate that specified guidance be offered to fertile couples and/or person in the position to guide fertile couples or children of an appropriate age. I here suggest guidance on birth control. Since intercourse is the most intimate relationship possible between a man and woman, and since the fundamental impulse of a person is to give love as intimately as is possible and effective toward the greatest possible scope imaginable, and since contribution to the creation of an heir has that greatest effect, the physical intimacy of intercourse is always stimulated by and accompanied by the impulse to give true love and is always an expression of it, even if it is intellectually known that procreation is at that moment impossible. The deliberate use of artificial contraception negates that impulse and significantly diminishes the joy of the activity. Therefore, the timing of marital intercourse should depend upon the couple’s will to then procreate or not to procreate. Today, there are highly sophisticated means of determining the probability of conception resulting from sexual intercourse at any moment. The use of these may require considerable effort; however, any effort is well worth it in ensuring the most intense joyfulness of the conjugal act.
The question arises, nevertheless, whether such teaching be indeed offered or whether any decision about birth control be determined by a person’s conscience –- in line with Rev. Moon’s dictum, above, that conscience is before teacher. I was raised by truth expressed in Divine Principle and Its Applications, Divine Principle Study Guide, Divine Principle, and Exposition of the Divine Principle. In these texts, one’s conscience is formed by goodwill according to one’s knowledge selected by and operated upon by reasoning. One’s thus dependent conscience is always relative, even momentary. I have been somewhat confused by Rev. Moon’s more recent teaching of an evidently absolute conscience. Perhaps it is the precipitate of the guiding power inherent in the Principle. Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, in Madison Square Garden, 2017, specified the Principle as the Creation Principle. The Creation Principle surely includes (or perhaps is) the principle of dual purposes which are in the subject-object relationship. Any thoughts of using artificial contraception would then be rejected, since, although it might promote the horizontal purpose of the couple, it would not serve the vertical] purpose of the future.
Thanks to those who commented. Three issues stood out for me:
1. Conscience. Exposition of DP (1996) teaches that conscience “can operate only when it forms a common base with some subject partner … The ultimate subject partner [being] God.” It also states,
“[D]ue to the Fall, human beings have become ignorant of God and thus ignorant of the absolute standard of goodness. For this reason, we are unable to set the proper standard of judgment for our conscience. As the standard of goodness varies, the standard of our conscience also fluctuates; this causes frequent contention even among those who advocate a conscientious life.”
EDP holds that conscience is the external manifestation of our original mind and, by implication, original human nature. This connects to the Roman Catholic understanding of natural law. However, during the 1990s, Rev. Moon spoke of conscience being “before” teacher, parents and God. This requires unpacking (see Dan Fefferman’s “A Case for the Primacy of Conscience”). Regardless, Unificationists should avoid facile use of the term in moral decision-making.
2. Ethics. Unification Thought distinguishes between ethics and morality, the former focusing on community responsibility, the latter on individual duty. My article focused on morality, but several comments alerted me to ethical dimensions of birth control I had not considered. One is the impact on the environment. Studies show that hormones in birth control pills flushed down toilets, poured down sinks and excreted in urine, have gotten into waterways, having negative effects on fish genes and behavior. A study of freshwater fish in Britain, for example, found a fifth of males are now showing feminine traits — including producing eggs, a reduced sperm count and less aggressive behavior — due to gender-bending chemicals found in the contraceptive pill. The other ethical issue is excessive pharmaceutical profiteering.
3. Mutuality. Natural methods of birth control clearly require higher levels of investment, cooperation, self-knowledge, and moral discipline from couples. And, when applied effectively, modern forms of fertility awareness can be as effective as contraceptive pills as Jesus Gonzalez Losada points out. Humanae Vitae contends, “The practice of periodic continence” by husbands and wives, “far from being a hindrance to their love, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character,” fostering “thoughtfulness and consideration for one another.” In my view, the mutuality required in practicing natural birth control among committed couples is preferable to contraceptives.
Very interesting and informative article. I really enjoyed reading True Parent’s words on birth control.
I am late to this discussion, but I would observe the following realities that have developed in the last several generations:
(1) Birth control is intensively practiced in wealthy and successful countries that have the greatest ability to provide for children. Wealthy South Korea, at present, has the lowest fertility rate of any country at <1 child per woman. Many wealthy Western countries are similar but less extreme.
(2) Birth control is much less practiced by poor countries that are already ill-providing for the citizens they have. Countries where incomes are two dollars a day or less have the highest fertility rates, upwards of six children per woman.
This to me is absurd and surely unprincipled.
The most rational birth control teaching is one that takes into account ability to provide. Those who can provide well should be encouraged to have many children, in whom they can invest for the benefit of the world. But this same instruction would be terrible advice for a poor family already unable to provide for the children they have.
Surely the principled approach is one that guides couples based on their real circumstances. The world is in crisis over this, on both sides. It is an abdication of moral responsibility to simply call this a private decision because it assuredly is not. In fact it is the most public decision.
Courageous, principled and righteous moral teachers must be willing to teach both sides, that children are the most precious and important gift to the world when parents are positioned to provide well for them but a burden to the world when parents cannot.
Until moral teachers can rise up and teach this duality in the full confidence that it is the principled way, the suffering in the world will grow. Religions will eventually have to adopt this into their teaching. Birth control can be a great blessing if used by those who most need it. Conversely, it can be a terrible curse on the world, when those most able to provide overuse it and great nations decline.
The failure of moral teachers to address both sides of this has left the world ablaze.