July 25 this year marks the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s highly controversial encyclical on the regulation of birth. It proclaims that the only lawful place for sex is within marriage, and that it is never licit for married couples to obstruct, even for therapeutic reasons, the transmission of human life.
In plain language, artificial birth control, sterilization and abortion have no place in a Christian marriage, less so outside it. No encyclical has provoked a more intense conflict on the issue of human life. Pope John Paul II called it the conflict between the culture of life and the culture of death.
Within the Church, the 1968 encyclical drew fire from dissenters and critics. They had to be reminded after a while that the matter was no longer open for theological debate. But never did Paul VI entertain any doubt about it. In his book, Paul VI, The First Modern Pope, Peter Hebblethwaite recalls that on the eve of the encyclical the Pope told Edouard Cardinal Gagnon: “Don’t be afraid, in twenty years they’ll call me a prophet.”
No statement proved more prophetic. In 1988, Janet E. Smith noted that all the prophecies contained in Humanae Vitae had been fulfilled. The encyclical predicted that:
- The widespread use of contraceptives would lead to conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality;
- “The man” will lose respect for “the woman” and “no longer (care) for her physical and psychological equilibrium” and will come to “the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion;”
- The widespread acceptance of contraception would place a dangerous weapon in the hands of public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies; and
- It would lead men (and women especially) to think they had absolute and unlimited dominion over their bodies.
The facts are beyond dispute. A new sexual morality, brought on largely by free access to contraceptives, has led to mounting divorces, children out of wedlock, teenage pregnancies, and abortion, which has inflicted more casualties than all the wars known to man have.
Not only has time proved Paul VI’s vision prophetic. It has also allowed personal devotion to that Pope, who served from 1963 to 1978, to grow. On my way with my wife to an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at
Ranged against Paul VI was another Paul, with his doomsday scenario of what would happen if humanity failed to stop population growth --- the very opposite of Humanae Vitae’s message. This was Paul Ralph Erlich, a 36-year-old entomologist from
The year the Pope released his encyclical, Erlich published his book, The Population Bomb, an instant bestseller which regurgitated the long discredited Malthusian scare theory about population growth outpacing food supply and added his own doomsday scare.
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” said the book. “In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of the crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate…”
Erlich’s prediction was a hoax. Throughout the seventies no country starved, except perhaps where genocidal wars had created their own hell. The American microbiologist and agronomist Norman Ernest Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yielding varieties of wheat and other grain crops to launch the “Green Revolution” in developing countries.
In 1980, Julian Simon, who says man is the “Ultimate Resource” in his book of the same title, entered into a bet with Erlich to see who was right and who was wrong. Erlich predicted that over a certain period metal prices would rise sharply because of scarcity driven by population growth; Simon maintained the opposite. They chose five metals. Erlich lost.
In 1992, the Nobel Prize for Economics went to Gary Becker for showing that human capital is really the foremost creator of wealth.. This was a cool rebuke to the renewed activism of the neoMalthusians which allowed the world-famous Jacques-Yves Cousteau to tell the Courrier de l’Unesco a year earlier that we needed to eliminate 350,000 persons a day to stabilize world population.
All over the developed world, the population is declining. Birth and fertility rates are falling; demographers foresee a trebling of people over sixty years old by 2050., and a drastic shrinking of the work force. Infertile
Despite Malthus’s long demonstrated failure, his epigones continue to promote population control as a cure, instead of acknowledging it as a disease. In the
(The writer, a former senator of the