Those who have encountered dysfunctional families can often attest to the phenomenon of avoiding the painful truth of an issue in order to keep the peace; frequently leading one to feel like he/she is “walking on eggshells.” The proverbial “elephant in the room” can accompany everything from addictions, to infidelity, or simply the need to forgive an ex-spouse whose emotional presence is never altogether absent. People avoid truth for a number of reasons, not the least of which can be human woundedness and fear. The fact that we have hurt others, that we ourselves have made mistakes, and that it is simply easier to cohabitate with the dysfunction latent in non-truth than to deal with truth itself, is obvious in the lives of many. Not infrequently however, sustained exposure to dysfunctional situations has the insidious effect of rendering the “dysfunctionalism functional.” In other words, the chaos of the family becomes so normal on a day-to-day basis one gradually adapts to it in a love-hate codependence. Some people even begin to thrive on chaos, at times creating division without realizing it simply because they have associated it as entirely routine. Normally it is not until one encounters a healthy family environment that the victim of a dysfunctional situation begins to realize how the “elephant” of dysfunction has now fully warped the “room” of one’s own family, in addition to now residing permanently within it.
Just as the “functionalizing of dysfunctionalism” can slowly suffocate a healthy family, so too can the dysfunctionalism of evil slowly asphyxiate the morality of an entire culture as well; which is where we currently find ourselves in the secular west. This immoral dysfunction is witnessed in a culture that sees absolutely nothing awry with killing its most vulnerable (aged and unborn), evaluating moral truth based on Gallup polls, ascribing ego to personal “rights,” perceiving happiness through the optic of sexual gratification and wealth, and labeling those who insist on exposing the “elephant” of immorality to them as thoroughly “intolerant.” As the prophets of the Old Testament discovered firsthand, the bearer of the truth is often the recipient of the cultural wrath. In his firm discourse with the Pharisees in John’s gospel (Jn 9:41), Jesus attests to the fact that pride is both blinding and leads to division, a hallmark fingerprint of the diabolic. The Holy Spirit however, leads to unity within oneself, the family, and the culture (Jn 10:16). When an entire society adopts the dysfunction of evil, it inevitably assumes what Blessed John Paul II referred to as “structures of sin” (Solicitudo rei Socialis, #36) and a “culture of death” (Evangelium Vitae,#12), which finds its cultural framework among the deadened consciences of millions who have rationalized the unreasonable “elephant” of non-truth. Such a dimming of the intellect of one person ultimately precedes the death of other people, as moral truth becomes the victim of cultural truthicide.
In an act of acute fortitude, forty-five years ago this month Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life, 1968). Though labeled colloquially as the “birth control encyclical,” the document itself is less about the matter of artificial contraception and more about the textured beauty of conjugal love within marriage and human anthropology. The Pontiff’s prescient look at marriage and family, drawing largely from the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), highlighted as well the moral dysfunctionalism that would invariably accompany a contraceptive mentality. When sexual union is amputated from the fruits of the unitive bonding of the couple and the possibility of procreation, it gradually begins to warp human perceptions of oneself, the other, and mankind as well. The Holy Father makes several predictions that will accompany a culture which adopts the “contraceptive” modus of thought: a consistent decreasing of moral standards throughout society; a consistent increase in marital infidelity; a gradual loss of respect for women by men; and the forced application of reproductive technologies by governments (#17). Even many who oppose the Catholic Church on much of her moral doctrine find it difficult not to concede that Paul VI’s predictions have to some degree been vindicated. For instance, Harvard researcher Dr. Edward Green, who has spent almost thirty years researching condom usage in family prevention, concedes that the position of the Catholic Church regarding condoms as ineffective has been statistically shown to be correct, though privately he disagrees with much of the Catholic positions (Catholic News Agency. “Harvard Researcher Agrees with the Pope on Condom in Africa.” March 21, 2009). Assuming morality is extracted completely from the issue, from a sociological standpoint the warnings in Humanae Vitae have materialized to such a degree that to even lightly gloss the surface in this context is to some degree redundant.
It is said that the issue of contraception is the moral “tip of the arrow” for Catholics who claim to be authentically Catholic and those who are only ostensibly so. That the word “contraception” literally means “against the beginning,” is perhaps insightful considering that both the Bible and John’s gospel begin with the phrase “in the beginning” (Gn 1:1; Jn 1:1). The contraceptive act then immediately sets its moral trajectory “against the beginning” of God’s presence among the couple, not to mention divine revelation itself. In a culture which unabashedly worships youth, hour-glass figures, and sexual longevity, there is little doubt that Jesus’ admonition that in gospel truth “a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father” (Lk 12:53) is manifestly seen in the contraception issue among many Catholic families. The issue is often divisive as many may know that the Church forbids contraception; yet very few actually know why or have taken the time to research it. Furthermore, that Americans are willing to even kill to protect their right to sexual autonomy is not simply an issue pertaining to morality, but is also a “right” protected by the Supreme Court (Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, 1992). Though it went over culturally like a ‘brick through a glass house’ at the time of its release, in Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI presciently forewarned of a culture which equates legality with morality, thereby washing its hands in a Pontius Pilate-esque denial of moral culpability for evil. Such a contraceptive mentality has also led to what some psychologists have termed the “Peter Pan syndrome,” wherein many adult men with children are seemingly unable to grow-up, assume responsibilities, and often expect sexual gratification on demand (Dr. Dan Kiley, The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up). I can attest to the dozens of wives and mothers I have counseled over the years whose husbands and sons are forty years old and play three hours of X-box a day.
It is somehow ironic then, that only a week after the forty-fifth anniversary of Humanae Vitae, our nation begins the full implementation of arguably the largest piece of pro-contraceptive and anti-family legislation in United States history, the Affordable Health Care Act (August 1, 2013). This unabashed incursion of religious freedom has been condemned by many on all political sides and of varied faith backgrounds. Add to this the irony endemic in the fact that some of those leading the charge in the implementation of the HHS Mandate are the very ones charged, by virtue of their offices, with protecting the religious freedom of its citizens; not a few of whom actually profess to be “Catholic.” Only history will tell whether or not the HHS Mandate is indeed the full-flourishing of the contraceptive mentality that Pope Paul VI warned of so many years prior. Nonetheless, within its utilitarian skeleton, once implemented the Mandate will ultimately translate into the deaths of countless unborn persons and perhaps even some who are reading this article, as the lives of the elderly will increasingly be assessed according to convenience and cost, as opposed to dignity and intrinsic worth. The propaganda defending the Mandate can never ultimately hide the “elephant in the room” of moral truth and the despotic reality that while killing may be legal and even now celebrated as “Healthcare,” there will nonetheless be real eternal consequences to those who promote it; and simply put, they will not be pleasant. As Humanae Vitae asserts, it is not too late to fix the dysfunctionalism of immorality we now find ourselves skipping into.
Fr. Ben’s website: http://www.frben.com