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.