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Jan 04 2014

Why evangelicals and Catholic leaders are against contraception

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.

With Catholics, the official explanation for their opposition stems from their weird theological doctrine (that also explains their anti-gay attitudes) that sexual acts must have procreation as at least a possible outcome. But that does not sound convincing to me as the only explanation.

The main advance of birth control is that it liberated women from being trapped by childbirth and child rearing to have limited options in life. They could now choose if and when to get pregnant and they could have the sexual freedom that only men had enjoyed before. This opened up a vast new world of possibilities for women and is what I believe partly drives the opposition to birth control. If you have the patriarchal belief that the proper place for women is at home and that sex outside of marriage is a horrendous evil, then birth control is your enemy. This is why it should be no surprise that the most vociferous opponents of birth control tend to be men.

But Jacob Lupfer argues that there may be another issue at play.

In his provocative book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?,” Eric Kaufmann argues that birthrates and retention rates are much more important to a religion’s market share than conversions. For all of evangelicals’ emphasis on saving “the lost” from eternal conscious torment in hell, their leaders understand that persuading families to have five or more children instead of two or three could be a bigger long-term demographic boost than conversions alone.

At this point, it becomes clearer why fundamentalists and some evangelical leaders find it so compelling to oppose the use of contraceptives. Not only would their demographic strength and political clout skyrocket after just a generation or two, but they would have also found a surefire way to keep females out of workplaces, pulpits and other places Christian women allegedly do not belong.

I had not considered the demographic argument before but it is true that those religions whose numbers are defying the steep downward trend in recent years are those like the ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslims where large families are encouraged birthrates are high.

This may explain why it is the leadership of these religious groups, who necessarily have to plan for the long-term viability of their business empires, who are so much more against contraception than their followers, who may only worry about their own and the next generation.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    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?

    Because they are all flaming hypocrites. They all use birth control at some point. The fundie leaders all have small families like everyone else.

    James “hate everything” Dobson has one biological kid. The hobby lobby CEO christofascist has two, Bush has two, Cheney has 3, and so on.

    They don’t want to reproduce like rabbits. They have better things to do with their time and money. They want their deluded and mostly lower class followers to do it for them.

  2. 2
    raven

    their leaders understand that persuading families to have five or more children instead of two or three could be a bigger long-term demographic boost than conversions alone.

    If that is all they have, they have lost. They can’t recruit so they have to reproduce.

    Attempts by one group to outbreed another rarely work. After a generation or two, people just decide its silly and they have better things to do with their lives, time, and money.

    Retention rates among the Southern Baptists of young people by their own numbers is 30%. All they are doing is producing more future Nones. Same with the Mormons. Their own numbers show half of all Mormons are inactive, apathetic, or gone.

  3. 3
    mnb0

    I don’t believe the demographic argument. Religious opposition against contraception was already there before the churches became empty.

  4. 4
    Marcus Ranum

    Why does it have to be so rational? Sure, that explanation works but so does a simple desire to control. One could assert that people who desire to control others might be attracted to religious leadership because it’s a good way of getting a flock to control. Ockham’s razor does the rest.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    They all use birth control at some point.

    Like, say, celibacy.

  6. 6
    raven

    I don’t believe the demographic argument. Religious opposition against contraception was already there before the churches became empty.

    Shrug.

    It’s probably slightly more complicated then trying to outbreed those Others. But not by much.

    The leaders of breeder cults say the same thing themselves and often. I know among the Mormons, the entirely male leadership frequently call on the mobile baby factories to…crank it up!!! We need more Mormons!!! It’s the One True Religion after all and they have to do something to take over the world.

    It isn’t working. Despite every male going on a two year mission, retention rates of converts in the USA are about zero and lower in the third world. And IIRC, the sky high Mormon birthrate is slowly falling towards US norms.

  7. 7
    hyphenman

    Good afternoon Mano,

    Maybe 25 years ago I had a conversation with a Reform Rabbi that I found enlightening. He told me the secret of how Reform Judaism survives.

    As a group, Reform Jews have few children and, more to the point, their children and grandchildren do not remain within the religion, choosing to become secular Jews, non-religious or atheists. Reform Judaism needs a constant influx of fresh blood that comes from the disaffected children of Orthodox Jews and, in some cases, Conservative Jews. This, he told me was the reason so much money flows from the Reform community to support the large families of Orthodox Jews. Without their high birth rate, Reform, liberal Judaism would be in serious peril.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    Reform Judaism needs a constant influx of fresh blood that comes from the disaffected children of Orthodox Jews and, in some cases, Conservative Jews.

    Ah, yes, a sort of halfway house between sanity and faith.

  9. 9
    Marcus Ranum

    Addendum to previous – I suppose the “spiritual” category may serve the same purpose for christians. They’re “christians” but really know next to nothing about it (which paradoxically makes it much easier to believe) but it has no impact on their lives because they actually don’t do anything other than nod when in the presence of more faithful and not own themselves as atheists.

  10. 10
    AnotherAnonymouse

    In the evangelical/fundamentalist/Quiverfull circles, the men want the women pregnant and saddled by dozens of children so that the women are so distracted and exhausted that they can’t pose any sort of threat to the men. Fill up a woman’s day 24/7 with endless childrearing, housekeeping, and man-pleasing tasks, and she won’t have the energy to agitate for equality.

  11. 11
    Mano Singham

    Jeff,

    That is really interesting! As Marcus says, it really does look like a halfway house, except that in this case they want that house to be full.

  12. 12
    raven

    They all use birth control at some point.

    Like, say, celibacy.

    Or their personalities.

    Who knows? Who cares? Who even wants to know? It’s their right to be ugly but it’s our right to ignore them.

  13. 13
    Heidi Nemeth

    The group of nuns which is strongly opposing having to provide birth control – what is that all about? I wonder if some of them found themselves unintentionally pregnant at a young age, couldn’t use birth control or abortion, had to hide themselves and their pregnancy, gave up their babies because of their beliefs, then joined the nunnery in penitence. Perhaps, having martyred themselves for their beliefs, they think others should also be required to martyr themselves.

  14. 14
    sailor1031

    Don’t forget two more things dear to the heart of every rightofascist:

    - large families among the poor perpetuate poverty. Resources that could possibly cover two won’t cover six or seven…..how else you gonna keep down in the gutter?

    - it’s just another rod to beat Obama with.

  15. 15
    left0ver1under

    Religions have always been willing to send their “soldiers” to die – and to kill.

    If the religious are blindly obedient, then outpopulating the opposition to win wars of attrition becomes a tactic. If they aren’t as willing to kill and die, religions will accept dictatorship by democracy, creating theocracies by outvoting the opposition in democracies.

  16. 16
    Matt G

    Of course, then you would only oppose birth control for YOUR group and SUPPORT it for all others, no?

  17. 17
    Nick Gotts

    Matt G.@16 has a good point: it is after all be quite possible to say “Our religion says we should have lots of children, but we have no desire to impose this on anyone else”. Indeed, this is the stance ultra-Orthodox Jews, for example, do take with regard to non-Jews. But it’s not the stance taken by the Roman Catholic Church or those evangelicals opposed to contraception, so in their case, the demographic results are presumably not an important part of the explanation.

  18. 18
    hyphenman

    Good morning all,

    I’ve long argued that the linchpin case for the religious wrong is not Roe v. Wade but rather Griswold v. Connecticut. Control the womb and you control the woman.

    Do all you can to make today a good day.

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  19. 19
    Leo Buzalsky

    Mano, we skeptics really, really need to stop using that 99% (or 98% for Catholics) statistic. It’s incorrect. (If it sounds too good to be true…) These statistics are based on simply subtracting out the percentages of those who say they use natural family planning. But when you look at the actual charts, there is also a “No method” category. This is getting counted in these statistics. I think it should be fairly obvious that “No method” is not a form of contraception! For reference, here is the link to the PFD (and the relevant chart is on page 6): http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/Religion-and-Contraceptive-Use.pdf

    Based on that, if we still want to discount natural family planning, then the percentage for all women is now only 88% and for Catholics it is 87%. These are still high numbers, though.

    With that, there is then the bizarreness that the Catholic church is apparently OK with natural family planning. That’s bizarre, because, as you say, “sexual acts must have procreation as at least a possible outcome” per the church. I guess maybe they’re OK with this because, if the church can’t stop people from using some sort of method, this is the method that would likely have the highest probability of failure. Thus, it seems to be a compromise position.

  20. 20
    Mano Singham

    Leo,

    I was not aware of that so thanks for letting me know and will avoid using that figure in the future. The range is still high at 87% to 90%, so the point is still valid. The report is a little confusing in that is does not really define ‘no method’. The only indicator is the sentence “On average, 11% of women at risk for unintended pregnancy are not using contraceptives, and levels of nonuse do not differ by religious affiliations, frequency of attendance or importance of religion.”

  21. 21
    Mano Singham

    @16 and 20,

    This would depend on what your goal was, whether to increase your absolute numbers or your percentage of believers. I think the first one is the most important while the other may be secondary in importance.

  22. 22
    Daniel Schealler

    I think it’s worth considering that the leaders may not realize the demographic argument themselves.

    I expect that some probably do. But it doesn’t need to be the case that they’re all so cynical.

    A religion that happens to urge its followers to have high birthrates and high retention rates will stand to out-compete other religions, preserving that trait. The trait doesn’t have to be consciously designed or enforced – although that doesn’t hurt either.

    It’s natural selection in the marketplace of ideologies.

  23. 23
    Nick Gotts

    @21,

    I don’t see your reasoning there. Successfully opposing contraception for all might increase the total population, but it wouldn’t increase the numbers of a particualr sect more than opposing contraception only for that sect, unless it increased the number of converts to that sect.

  24. 24
    Doug Little

    I don’t believe the demographic argument either unless they have some way of restricting their offspring from access to the rest of society. Information is their real enemy.

  25. 25
    CW

    Having grown up in the evangelical community of eastern Texas, I don’t remember contraception being an issue at that time (70′s). What was an issue, however, was out-of-wedlock pregnancy; apparently the mindset of the religious community had not changed much from the days of Hester Prynne: a child born out of wedlock was looked at not merely as a child, but as the physical punishment / just-desserts of the sinner. The burden of raising a child as a single mother are great: careers are put aside, the beautiful white wedding is no longer an option, scorn from the ‘christian’ community, the white picket fence is gone. This was viewed as the proper response for “slutty behavior”.

    The problem with abortion (and contraception) is that single women can now have sex and the community cannot mete out it’s justice; the power has shifted out of their hands. She can do what she wants with no recourse. The anti-abortion and the anti-contraception crusades are attempts to return the control the ‘religious right’ once held. Of course, they can’t admit this is the reason since the level of prudishness it displays would be ridiculed, and rightly so.

  26. 26
    Crimson Clupeidae

    One of the big reasons this irritates me so much is because nearly 60 percent of women taking BC do it for other medical reasons (can’t find a cite, that’s from Planned Parenthood). My wife was one of them (I say was, because she had a medical procedure recently that finally made it unnecessary to take BC pills). We lived in KS for a long time, and I always worried about a pharmacy/pharmacist getting into our business, but it never happened, luckily. (I think it would have been one of the few things that might make me violent….)

  27. 27
    leni

    CW:

    a child born out of wedlock was looked at not merely as a child, but as the physical punishment / just-desserts of the sinner. The burden of raising a child as a single mother are great: careers are put aside, the beautiful white wedding is no longer an option, scorn from the ‘christian’ community, the white picket fence is gone. This was viewed as the proper response for “slutty behavior”.

    The problem with abortion (and contraception) is that single women can now have sex and the community cannot mete out it’s justice; the power has shifted out of their hands. She can do what she wants with no recourse.

    I was going to make this same point. It’s a theme I’ve seen come up again and again, particularly from female opponents of abortion. It’s an issue of fairness. If they had to pay their dues then so should everyone else and those lazy sluts are just avoiding their responsibility. I’ve heard more than one person say that directly, so I’m not inferring this. They don’t deny it, but they know they can’t legislate on those grounds so they shift the argument to bs about abortion being murder and children being precious.

    And no, they don’t want to pay for it once it’s out of the womb, either. This is the magic point at which other peoples’ reproductive choices suddenly aren’t their problem anymore. The punishment is supposed to be for the slut, not for all of us! That would be unfair.

  28. 28

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