Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, February 10, 2012

Far More Than You Wanted To Know About Birth Control

Image from here.

Poor Ross Douthat is deeply distressed, as those nasty fornicators keep dissing his Church.

Kevin Drum’s blog continues to be the place to turn for emblematic liberal defenses of the Obama White House’s contraception-sterilization-Plan B-ella mandate. In a recent post, he argues that forcing Catholic institutions to purchase contraception is totally fine because 98 percent of Catholics have used birth control, the issue is “a matter of conscience only for a tiny number of men in the formal hierarchy of the Catholic church,” and the federal government only needs to respect the liberties of private institutions and communities “in areas where there’s substantial, highly-charged controversy,” not in areas where only very small minorities differ from the consensus (i.e. enlightened) view.

I would make three points in response. First, most studies do show that only 2-3 percent of Catholic couples never use artificial means of birth control. However, there are between 70 and 80 million Catholics in the United States, which means that even if only 2 percent of couples are trying to live by the Church’s teaching we’re still talking about hundreds of thousands of people rather than just “a tiny number of men.” (And I can promise Drum, from my experience in Catholic circles, that there’s more enthusiasm for Natural Family Planning among many of the people who practice it than there is among many bishops.)

Oh really, Ross? Let's do the math. Fist, let's note that masturbation is a big no-no among Catholics, and if someone is a Two-Percenter he probably will not masturbate as well. Next, let's knock a week off the Sex Calendar for a woman's time to menstruate, because women's bodily fluids are yucky and sinful. Then we have to take into account the fact that sperm can possibly--dare we say conceivably?--live six or seven days inside the womb, longer if the conditions are right. Naturally you will have to avoid sex during a woman's fertile period, which can be several days and occurs 14 days before the first day of her period. Six or seven days or even more before her fertile time, three or four days during her fertile time, and six days for her period. Let's say say a woman starts her period on Feb. 22.

Feb 1-7 Not Fertile--Party time!
Feb. 8-14  Sperm can live in womb--no sex  Sorry, guys. You spent $60 on roses for nothing.
Feb. 15-18 Fertile--no sex
Feb 19-21 Not fertile. Woo hoo!
Feb. 22-29 Menstruation--no sex

That's about 11 days a month when there is a possibility that the woman might not get knocked up. And rremember, everyone does not ovulate regularly. It is almost impossible to be certain that a woman will not get pregnant from unprotected sex. You are playing Russian Roulette with your family's lives, so that your imaginary god will not send you to Hell for taking care of your and your family's needs. I'm sure that every married Catholic man will be perfectly happy to not relieve the pressure of his needs for two thirds of his life, or not want to make love with his wife. And what if she is tired or out of town during that ten days? Too bad, Mr. Catholic! Maybe next month. Or the one after that. Patriarchal men are so happy to be told that they can't exercise their marital rights.

Unstated most of the time is the contradiction regarding natural planning. The Church says that every act of sex must be open to God's gift of life, yet natural planning is actively avoiding God's gift of life. If the Church  cannot even follow its own dogma, why should anyone else?

Moreover, these hundreds of thousands aren’t all just part of some lunatic fringe disconnected from the everyday life of parishes and communities. In more conservative dioceses, especially, they’re often the active core of parish life, fundraising, community service and so on. They teach marriage prep courses, their children are altar servers … you get the idea. Even if Catholics who followed the Church’s teaching to the letter were the only Catholics who objected to the new regulations, it’s still a small but influential segment of the Church.

I went to a Catholic Church like this for many years. There was a small core of devoted families who did most of the work. They had two or three kids, maybe four, not ten or twelve. The parish is unusual; it is about one half wealthy whites and one half poor Hispanics, with a few Bohemians thrown in. The Hispanic families have many kids. The white ones don't. Do that math.

But of course they aren’t the only Catholics who have objected. Here Drum glosses over the complexities of religious faith and practice, which ensure that many Catholics’ relationship to the teachings of their Church is more complicated than a simple “agree or disagree.” There are Catholics who accept the Church’s view on contraception but simply don’t live up to it. There are Catholics who respect the general point of the teaching while questioning its application to every individual case. (My sense, elaborated here, is that the current pope has some sympathy for this perspective.)

No, he doesn't. If you read the link you will see Douthat engages in wishful thinking and hand-waving to gloss over Catholic birth control use and the hierarchy's views on it.

There are many American Catholics, as Daniel McCarthy noted in a perceptive interview recently, who are neither devout nor dissidents — Catholics who practice their faith intermittently, drifting away and then being tugged back, without having any particular desire to see its teachings changed to suit their lifestyles.

Because they ignore those teachings to have the lifestyle they want: don't go to mass, don't give up meat during lent, don't give up birth control.

 And then there are Catholics (and this is a large category) who do explicitly dissent from Church teaching, but who also don’t want to see secular governments set the rules for what Catholic institutions can and cannot do. These are people who have been particularly vocal in the current debate (to their great credit), and their voices undercut the entire Drum thesis. If this issue a matter of conscience only for the “formal hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” then why is the White House taking so much criticism from Catholics with a reputation for disagreeing with the hierarchy — from Commonweal Catholics and National Catholic Reporter Catholics, from famous Catholic liberals like E.J. Dionne and Chris Matthews, Catholic Democrats like Tim Kaine and Bob Casey, Jr., and so on? The answer can’t be that they’re all afraid of the bishops, since we’ve just established that most Catholics don’t agree with the bishops on this issue. Something else is going on here.

Dionne has three children. So do Matthews and Kaine. Casey supports many pro-choice opinions. And all of these people are men. Weak, Ross. Very weak.

That “something else” has a lot to do with the complexities of religious loyalty, as I’ve said. But it also has to do with a basic commitment to the kind of institutional pluralism and tolerance of principled dissent that the United States has always wisely tried to cultivate. And here I find Drum’s overall perspective simply appalling. The idea that the state should only “tread carefully” on issues of liberty, conscience and freedom of religion in areas where polling data shows significant support for the position or community in question is a recipe for majoritarian tyranny and government overreach. The logic that he’s applying to orthodox Catholics could be applied just as easily to the Amish, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Jews, and a host of other groups that don’t have the kind of institutional resources that Roman Catholicism can muster in its own defense. Yes, sometimes state interests are compelling enough to trump religious liberties, and defenders of this mandate have every right to make that case. But the argument that the state’s interests can trump religious liberties so long as the group of people being asked to violate their consciences is small enough is not an argument at all. It’s just a raw appeal to power.

You can have as much religious liberty as the law allows. Nobody is telling any religious person that they will be forced to violate their conscience. They just can't get federal funds if they violate federal laws.  All the Catholic Church has to do is give up money--you know, that thing that belongs to Caesar, not God? This is all about money. It is almost always about money. Donations from Catholics, fines from the IRS, tax exemptions--it's all about money.
Now, what was it that Jesus said about money?
19 "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures

upon earth, where moth and rust destroy,

and where thieves break in and steal.

20 "But lay up for yourselves treasures in

heaven, where neither moth nor rust

destroys, and where thieves do not break in

or steal;

21 for where your treasure is, there will

your heart be also.

22 "The lamp of the body is the eye; if

therefore your eye is clear, your whole

body will be full of light.

23 "But if your eye is bad, your whole

body will be full of darkness. If therefore

the light that is in you is darkness, how

great is the darkness!

24 "No one can serve two masters; for

either he will hate the one and love the

other, or he will hold to one and despise

the other. You cannot serve God and


25 "For this reason I say to you, do not be

anxious for your life, [as to] what you shall

eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your

body, [as to] what you shall put on. Is not

life more than food, and the body than


26 "Look at the birds of the air, that they

do not sow, neither do they reap, nor

gather into barns, and [yet] your heavenly

Father feeds them. Are you not worth much

more than they?

27 "And which of you by being anxious can

add a [single] cubit to his life's span?

28 "And why are you anxious about

clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field

grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,

29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in

all his glory did not clothe himself like one

of these.

30 "But if God so arrays the grass of the

field, which is [alive] today and tomorrow is

thrown into the furnace, [will He] not much

more [do so for] you, O men of little faith?

31 "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What

shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or

'With what shall we clothe ourselves?'

32 "For all these things the Gentiles

eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father

knows that you need all these things.

33 "But seek first His kingdom and His

righteousness; and all these things shall be

added to you.

34 "Therefore do not be anxious for

tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.

[Each] day has enough trouble of its own.
And how much money does the Catholic Church already have?
In his [Prof. Thomas J. Reese, Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University] book, "Inside the Vatican" (Harvard University Press, 1996 highly recommended if you're interested in Church history and politics), he examines the finances of the Vatican (For the Chapter on Vatican finances see pp. 202-229).

The first thing you may want to know is that the Holy See ran a deficit from 1970 until 1993. Reese examines first the IOR (Instituto per le Opere di Religione), known better as "the Vatican Bank". The IOR was founded in 1887 to help the Pope manage his finances after the fall of the Papal States. In 1994, for the first time in its history, the bank was audited by an outside element - Price Waterhouse (today PriceWaterhouseCoopers - In that year, the bank had deposits of $40 billion, and annual profits of $4 million.

Reese notes, after an interview with the head of the bank, that "it is unclear how much working capital the bank has beyond its deposits", and that some estimated it as high as $1 billion, before 1984 payments to creditors of a collapsing Italian Bank (a scandal known as "Banco Amrosiano" Scandal). The budget of the Vatican City itself is $130 million annually.

In 1994, the audit listed:

- 1,483 billion lire in assets [About $848 million]: -

- 732 billion lire [about $419 million] in liabilities (in the

"Consolidated Financial Statements of the Holy See" (410 billion in

cash, 479 billion in stocks and bonds, 29 billion in gold, and 470

billion in fixed assets - investments and real-estate) . 269 billion

lire are in deposits and accounts of Vatican entities, 96 billion for

employees' severance indemnities and 262 billion at the value of

pensions to present employees;

- 750 billion are in net assets [$430 million].

These figures are without the bank and the Vatican City, each of them was mentioned earlier, and Reese estimates that it would add up to $500 million to $1 billion. However, deducting the Vatican City's budget and the $270 million reported as "fixed assets", the sum is lower than $1 billion, maybe even less than quarter billion dollars. Although Reese's information is only an estimation, it is probably the closer you'll get, with the complex structure of the Vatican and the Church. You can find other estimations online, including from this site, which tries to assert retributions from the Vatican bank on property looted by the Nazis. they claim the bank has manages £2bn (British Pounds) of assets, and that The Vatican had a balance of 2.5bn lira in 1998, then worth about £1m.

In an interview published in Money Week, Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, the Vatican's "finance minister", claims that The Vatican's assets are $5 billion. he adds that " Income to the Holy See from bishops' dioceses has more than tripled from 1990 levels, to $22 million in 2000." he also says, "That [$5 billion] doesn't include the Vatican City, which has a separate financial statement. If property is used for Church purposes and could never be sold, the value of it is considered 1 lire, or nearly zero." The City's assets are "The revenues in 2000 were $180 million. The net surplus was $22 million, but that fluctuates greatly since we're responsible for the maintenance of all buildings, and it's extremely costly. One year we have a profit of $1 million and the next year $10 million. We put the surplus in a reserve, so we have it when the next work is needed" (Szoka refuses to refer directly to the Vatican Bank's assets).

Many of us are a great deal poorer than we were a few years ago. Many of us can't risk having another child. Ross Douthat can go to Hell and take his Catholic clergy with him.
Birth control now. Birth control forever!


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

I've wondered why the NYT would hire the likes of a Chunky Bobo. And why the WaPo would hire Jennifer Rubin.

I can only conclude that the purpose is to make the other hacks on their payrolls (Bobo, George Eff Will) appear better by comparison.

Susan of Texas said...

One good thing about all this controversy is that it is now perfectly clear that Bobo and his ilk would never stop at eliminating abortion--contraception would be next, and they would never give up until that was almost impossible to get as well.

Kathy said...

The ultimate conservative goal: re-subjugation of women, the re-creation of a numerically huge and desperately poor class that has no recourse except their patriarchal organizations such as the church, the military, just about all jobs that don't require 4-8 years of college, and maybe the college folk too.

aka: the Middle Ages till the late 1800's (except for the US & France).

DocAmazing said...

Oh, the issue of Vatican finances is very ripe for discussion. For grins, look in Wikipedia under "Bishop Paul Marcinkus", "Banco Ambrosiano", "Roberto Calvi", "Lateran Treaty", "Licio Gelli" and "Propaganda Due".

Those priests have been really busy. If you're really in the mood for Vatican intrigue and a dash of conspiracy speculation, check out In God's Name by David Yallop.

Downpuppy said...

McArdle went all Emily Littela on Obama over this -
The onus has been shifted to insurance companies, which will contact women separately and offer them the optional coverage, which they will pay for.

3 comments in, & then..

Update: Commenters point out that I've misread it--the insurers have to provide it "at no cost".

I'm up to a post a day since adopting 2 muses at

Roger said...

And I can promise Drum, from my experience in Catholic circles, that there’s more enthusiasm for Natural Family Planning among many of the people who practice it than there is among many bishops.

Many people who voluntarily practice something are more enthusiastic about it than people who don't. THIS CHANGES OUR WHOLE UNDERSTANDING OF HUMAN NATURE! Thanks, Ross!

The bishops have no skin in the game. An altar boy can never get preggers.

Anonymous said...

"The bishops have no skin in the game. An altar boy can never get preggers."

Really? I had no idea that bishops were circumcised.

Kathy said...

Repugs/conservative's Owners & Masters are intent on turning the USA into a third-world country, perhaps another Somalia. The better to ravage all our national resources without constraint of any type. Goodbye Nat'l Parks, Public land and any private land of real value. We'll all be "Native Americans".

Unknown said...

And I don't think it can be said often enough, or loudly enough, that is already the law of the land in 28 states, including my own North Carolina -- not exactly known as a liberal bastion. And 8 of those states don't even allow for any sort of religious exemption. I don't remember any hue and cry raised when those laws were passed.

Anonymous said...

Well, the other thing Ross doesn't mention in all his whimpering is that, re the healthcare plan issue, the whole deal here is that the Catholic Church is upset that it can't impose its religious values on the non-Catholic employees of it's non-church facilities.

So I guess that with the Catholic Church, as with Repubs, "religious liberty" goes only one way-their way.