Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Paradox Surrounding Conception

“This is the paradox of America’s unborn. No life is so desperately sought after, so hungrily desired, so carefully nurtured. And yet no life is so legally unprotected, and so frequently destroyed.”
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat 1/3/11 (1)
This quotation is a pretty concise observation of what is so very disturbing about the attitude of mainstream culture toward the conception of human life. In mainstream society we observe not only a rejection of the sanctity of human life, but also a rejection of the sanctity of the covenant of marriage (which in turn causes a distortion of sexuality’s proper context as well as a degradation of the value of the family) and most of all, a rejection of God.
Rejecting God inherently becomes a rejection of at least some aspect of human dignity. Fulton Sheen has said, “…a person is a person only when seen in an image of God” (2). If God does not exist, then man cannot possess His image. The connection between sexuality and the sanctity of life exists because of that image of God, the imago Dei, which we all not only possess but are also called to uphold in our own lives (3). The revelation of the imago Dei, as Anderson and Granados explain in Called to Love, begins in the family (4). The basis of the family is the covenant of marriage, which itself is the vocation to having a family. What has been happening in recent decades though, has been the separation of sexuality from marriage, and the rejection of God from human love.
Mainstream culture has become a culture of using our bodies to suit personal desire, especially where sexuality and conception are concerned. The way conception is viewed in society is often very distorted by personal desire, and that desire is usually toward one of two extremes. The more obvious extreme is the view of the conception of children as a burden to be avoided, in favor of engaging in non-marital and contracepted sex (A previous topic of mine). At the other extreme, the mindset seems quite the opposite. Once a couple has decided that they want to conceive children, they may develop a sense of entitlement that they believe allows them to pursue conception as an instrinsic right and by any means necessary (or desired). The general attitude seems to view the conception (or contraception) of children as some sort commodity, which can merely be either acquired or rejected upon desire. It is insisted that children are something that can be avoided at will through an abuse of sexuality, and also insisted that children may also be produced at will by an imitation of sexual function. Thus, medical science has developed a myriad of technologies that offer us both the ability to falsify the correct reproductive aspects of our bodies, and to imitate the biological function of sexuality.
I have been casually following a series of articles on NPR entitled “Making Babies: 21st Century Families” (Found here). The articles are about various situations surrounding the use of IVF. These articles show a human sexuality that is becoming increasingly consumerized, an attitude partly permitted by advances in technology. The scenarios show the mindset that conception is primarily something for parents to procure for themselves. These behaviors are not symbolic of how God calls us to love, but are a sign of the misunderstanding of His call, which results in a distortion of the means of following it. Marriage is the vocation to family, and it is right that married couples should wish to become parents. The problem arises when the means by which they try to fulfill that vocation becomes an inappropriate one. IVF is immoral is not just because it is something artificial, but because of what it is specifically an artificial simulation of. It is an artificial simulation of the very means by which a husband and wife are called within their love to be co-creators with God of the human person (which bears the imago Dei).
The "cafeteria style" set of sexual ethics that has developed is based upon want, desire, gratification, selfishness, use, and most of all, subjectivity. People are quick to take from sexuality whichever of its single aspects that suits their purposes at the moment, but are strikingly hesitant to recognize sexuality as the whole of all its facets and to accept it in its proper context: as a physical expression of the vows of matrimony, being together “free, total, faithful and fruitful” (5).

(1) A good quotation printed in one of the parish bulletins for "Respect Life Month." I tried, but can’t find the actual article.
(2) Fulton Sheen. Three to Get Married. (New York: Scepter Publishers, 1996), 7
(3) Cf. The explanation of the imago Dei: the imago Dei includes not only the image of God, but also the likeness. The “likeness” is the dynamic part of the imago Dei, which man is called to continuously perfect: “man is born as God’s image, but he has to complete the imago Dei through his free yes to God.”
Carl Anderson and Jose Granados. Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 85.
(4) ibid., 86.
(5) Christopher West. Theology of the Body for Beginners. (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press, 2009), 89.

1 comment:

  1. "These articles show a human sexuality that is becoming increasingly consumerized, an attitude partly permitted by advances in technology". This is well said.
    I personally understand the longing for children, and the temptation to create them, as it were, in my image, through technology... if we allow the desire to become the end, then we canrationalize such a thing.
    But when we understand that desire unsatisfied speaks of something more, we learn a great lesson about what it truly means to be human. That desire is not an end in itself, but rather a vehicle by which we are reminded that this is not our home - that desire points us to fullness of life in eternity.
    When we embrace desire and all the longing and sadness that can accompany it- especially that desire for life which is so GOOD - and offer it as a sacrifice, we unite ourself to the suffering of Christ and at the same time enter a more intimate hope of that day when we will all be in communion with the Lord of Life, and all desires will be fulfilled beyond our wildest imaginings...
    Then, we WILL have a life that is truly free, total, faithful and fruitful in communion.