Dear all, this is a response to the specific question Credo
put to me down the board (see link below) on how I reach
the conclusion that the Catholic Church contributed to the
overswing of the pendulum in sexual mores and behaviours
in Western society.
With pleasure, Credo. I did actually outline it somewhere
in another post in the last 24 hours but it was in the course
of explaining something else so I'll try and state it here
as a standalone proposition.
Most people (ie thinking, intelligent people who study these
sort of things) would agree that there was a massive social
revolution in the Western world that got underway in the
late 1950s/early 1960s. The causes of this were undoubtedly
complex but two of the broad factors at work were the post-World
War prosperity which really had started to flow down through
all the social classes in the Western world by that stage.
Allied to this was the baby boomer generation. The massive
explosion in the population at the conclusion of the War
as men returned home and people started having families
again. I was part of that generation as I was born in 1948.
Our parents had gone through the most horrific war in human
history and still fresh in their memories were the stories
from around the dinner table of their parents' experiences
in not only the Great Depression of the 1930s but also the
First World War. Collectively, as a result of their experiences
they had made a decision "our children are never going
to have to go through what we and our parents went through".
My generation had a dream run. We had education lavished
on us like it had never been lavished on anyone in human
history before. I was the first person in my wider family,
probably since we were descended from Adam and Eve to have
the privilege of a university education. It was in the early
sixties that my generation began to become sexually active
and we had been given enormous freedom (at least compared
to previous generations) by our parents. They were trying
to create "a better world" and they gave all of us ‚ their
children ‚ great encouragement to do likewise. Out of
this complex flow of sociological factors was born the so-called
It is not my contention that the
sexual revolution was caused by the Church. The
pendulum had already started swinging from all the other
factors I have just mentioned. Two other factors that were
feeding the particular aspects of the so-called sexual revolution
were (a) better medical knowledge about contraception and,
in particular, the development of the oral contraceptive
pill and (b) women had suddenly discovered for themselves
a completely different understanding of their own sexuality
that was completely different to what most women (their
mother's generation) had had. Women now felt they could
enjoy sex in much the same way that men had been able to
since the dawn of time. Before the invention of reliable
contraception women carried enormous worry every time their
husband demanded his conjugal rights. For the man it was
over in five minutes. The woman had to wait a month and
worry if she was pregnant or not and, if she was, that single
five minute act had charted the course of her life for at
least 21 years and possibly even longer. Now women were
largely freed from that worry and they began to enjoy the
pleasurable side of sex every bit as much as men did.
So far I've been writing about what was going on in general
society, not particularly in the Catholic Church and within
Catholic families. I'll talk about that specifically in
a while. For the moment though I would just share the observation
that Catholics generally shared in what I have described
so far but with the added benefit that it was in the 1960s,
and certainly in Australia, that Catholics ceased thinking
of themselves as second-class citizens ‚ the hewers of wood,
carriers of parcels and general dogsbodies to the White
Anglo-Saxon Squattocracy that had virtually ruled this nation
since the arrival of the first Europeans. We were beginning
to take our place with pride in Australian society just
like everyone else. As you can imagine, it was a heady mix.
Both generally in what was going on in society in general
and for us Catholics in particular.
The whole climate of that time was enormous optimism
right throughout the Western world. It is true that
the Cold War and Russia was a bit of a dampener but that
didn't affect the ordinary person in the street too much
except perhaps for the big scare of the Cuban missile crisis
in the early 1960s. At around this time also the ingenuity
of the Japanese people began to impact on the West with
a massive explosion in access to consumer goods and labour
saving devices. Along with that came increased leisure time.
We really did think the world was our oyster and there was
nothing to stop anything we wanted to do. This was the time
when man first landed on the moon and realised the possibility
of being able to explore other parts of the solar system
and out into deep space.
Now let's look at the specifically Catholic factors.
In the early 1960s, and quite out of the blue, this Pontiff
came along called John XXIII. He was already an old man
and he was thought to be some kind of interim appointment.
Totally against what anybody was expecting he called this
thing called a Vatican Council ‚ most of us had never heard
what one of them was ‚ and he said he was going to "freshen
up the Church" and bring its thinking up to date with all
the other developments that had been going on in society.
Can you imagine how the ordinary Catholics in the street
felt? Initially they walked around liked stunned mullets
I suppose because nothing like this have happened in the
living memory history of the Church. Then, as the idea sunk
in and the Council became a reality there was enormous enthusiasm
for Vatican II. Amongst the laity and amongst the religious.
We sort of began to factor it in with this other great mood
of optimism and joy we'd been experiencing of the world
being our oyster. We really did have a feeling that "God
is on our side" and the world was entering a new beautiful
period of "peace, love and mungbeans" as Amanda McKenna
would describe it.
Catholics only had one little problem compared to anyone
else. We couldn't bonk like they could and enjoy all the sexual
liberation that had begun to go on. My wife and I got married
when I was in my final year at university in 1969 and, along
with quite a number of my peers we would not be afraid to
admit that we basically got married so that we could go and
bonk our brains out like everyone else was now doing. I am
sure if someone studied the statistics of that period of Catholic
university students that the average age of marriage would
have been 3, 4 or 5 years lower than the general average for
society. If you didn't do that you either had to ignore this
aspect of Catholic teaching or do it and put up with a guilty
conscience. Then in 1965 Pope John Paul announced he was setting
up a special commission to look into the whole matter of artificial
contraception. More surprising still is that for the first
time in the entire history of the Church he appointed lay
people, including married couples to this commission. Unfortunately
Pope John XXIII did not live to see the work of that commission
completed and you can read George Weigelís overview of what
then occurred in those previous references I have given from
his biography of PJPII. [Link to Excerpt
on Humanae Vitae and Excerpt
on The Theology of the Body]
Let's go back to the wider secular picture for a paragraph.
If you were watching ABC television earlier this evening
you would have seen the first episode of the rock music
history program "Love is in the Air". It captured
brilliantly the mood of the 1960s. It really was an absolutely
beautiful time to be growing into an adult in. By the
same token there were also some cracks beginning to show
in the whole picture. New social problems were beginning
to emerge like drugs and some kinds of anti-social and anti-authority
behaviour even forms of anarchy and nihilism. What
I am trying to point to here is that the social revolution
was already overheated or, to put it another way, we (society)
had not only redressed all the repression that had been
caused by the Great Depression and the two World Wars but
the social pendulum had begun to overswing into behaviours
and thinking patterns that, in the long run would be unsustainable.
Now we can get to answer your question, Credo: How did
the Catholic Church contribute to the overswing of the pendulum?
In 1965 the Second Vatican Council ended. I was in my final
year of secondary school. The Catholic world was still waiting
on the outcome of the work being undertaken by this commission
Pope John XXIII had set up into the matter of contraception.
Meanwhile though Pope John had died and Pope Paul VI took
over. This had actually happened before the end of the Vatican
Council. There was though an enormous sense of optimism
right throughout the Church in the Western world where,
for the first time in history, ordinary Catholics probably
had some understanding of what was going on in Rome because
of all the publicity from the Vatican Council. The optimism
was that the Church would approve artificial contraception
and give Catholics access to the same sort of sexual freedoms
that the rest of the world had been enjoying for nearly
In October 1968 Pope Paul VI dropped
his bombshell. It literally was like a bombshell.
There was almost immediately a massive defection from the
Church by many married people ‚ and also by many religious
who also were all buoyed with this great feeling of optimism
and hope. It is difficult to convey what a sense of disappointment
Humanae Vitae was to everyone. A few months ago if you happened
to watch the episode of Brides of Christ where Humanae
Vitae was discussed you would have even heard the Bishop
express deep disappointment at the decision. I think that
small scene captured the whole mood of the Catholic Church
in 1968 in an exquisitely poignant way even the Bishops
were disappointed even though the ruling on contraception
did not mean a scrap of difference as far as their personal
sexuality was concerned. A large proportion of the children
of these people today make up the present parent generation
sending their children to Catholic schools but who do not
practice themselves. The decision was totally, totally unexpected
right up virtually until the announcement was made.
Now my argument is, and I am pretty sure this is also the
argument that PJP and George Weigel are talking about in that
sentence that I quoted ["When he was elected to the
papacy, Karol Wojtyla knew that the Church's last effort to
address the sexual revolution and its relationship to the
moral life, Pope Paul's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, had
been a pastoral and catechetical failureóhowever
correct he thought it was on the specific question of the
morally appropriate means of regulating fertility."
See Witness to Hope excerpt here.].
Had the Church managed the communication in a different
way I do not believe there would have been the massive shock
that was inflicted on the Church in 1968. There would not
have been the massive falling away of loyalty to the Church
and the contribution that this made to sexual behaviours and
thinking that took place without restraint. The proportion
of the Catholic population who actively practised their religion
had been falling since the 1950s. It had been about 56% and
higher in the 1950s. The decline had partially stabilised
because of Vatican II but the publication of Humanae Vitae
"opened the floodgates" to people leaving the active practice
of their faith such was the scale of disappointment experienced
by ordinary Catholics, and particularly married Catholics.
Many of those that did stay went through enormous trauma with
their consciences and many of them just disobeyed this ruling
of the Church and started using contraception ‚ sometimes
with the blessing of their priests in private consultation.
As I wrote in the other post where I was discussing this:
it is arguable that had PJP been the one in charge and
he been able to do what he wanted to do ‚ which was explain
better why artificial contraception (ac) was a theological
no-no ‚ the damage would have been a lot less. Not as many
would have left. This would not have contributed to
the numbers of those who were providing extra energy for
the pendulum to swing further in the direction of lack of
restraint in all sexual behaviours. I actually do not
believe even PJPII's solution would have been enough though
and I accept that that is a matter of personal opinion.
I do agree it would have lessened
the overswing of the pendulum ‚ and that is basically what
George Weigel argues. As you know if you have
followed the long discussion Maggie and I had a month or
so ago, I am also simply not convinced by Pope John Paul's
theological arguments on the matter of ac. Neither do a
lot of other ordinary married Catholics seem to be convinced
by them even when they have studied The Theology of the
Back to finish my argument. I think there was one other
way in which the Church ended up contributing to the overswing
of the pendulum and an unleashing of far greater sexual
licentiousness than need have occurred.
Another important factor of what had been generally
going on in the 1960s was a massive social re-evaluation
of the individual person's relationship to authority figures.
Our parents, in a sense, had loosened the apron strings
and we had gone on and applied this to other symbolic authority
figures in our lives ‚ like the government, like our relationships
with our teachers, our relationship to policemen and any
person who wore a uniform. In a sense there was this feeling
in the air that people didn't need these "nannies" in their
lives anymore. All you needed to do was "make love not war".
Do you understand now the enormous symbolism of John Lennon's
and Yoko Ono's act of going to bed for a whole year?
Now this is where, in hindsight, we can see the Church
was really dumb. She had been dumb enough by effectively
shooing out half her practising congregations to join the
sexual revolution. That just added the weight of numbers
to the overswing of the pendulum.
What she was doing here was effectively setting herself
up as a counter symbol of authoritarianism and she became
the laughing stock of the world. I believe it was at this
point that the media began to deliberately start poking
fun at the Church and at Catholics ‚ but in a totally different
way to what had happened earlier in the century when Catholics
were treated as second-class citizens in an economic and
social sense. I also believe, and argue, that it was at
this point that masses of people on the outside who until
then basically couldn't have cared what the Catholic Church
or the Pope thought about anything started to actually engage
in activities to deliberately, as it were, give the big
two-fingered salute to the Catholic Church and everything
she had to say about human sexuality. We began to see
public demonstrations in such places as the gay and lesbian
mardi gra which were directly targeting and designed to
send up the values of the Church. Similarly there were satirical
television programs and all sorts of stuff slipped into
otherwise innocuous soapies that all had the effect of (a)
mocking the Catholic Church and (b) encouraged people to
mock the Catholic Church by deliberately engaging in activities
that made the more conservative Catholics start glowing
red and busting their boilers.
That behaviour is still engaged in today and not only with
Catholics. People do love seeing rednecks bust their boilers.
Do you know who the favourite friend of the gay and lesbian
community in Australia is? It is the Reverend Fred Nile.
He cannot see that but they can and they literally do love
having him around. It makes their work a million times easier
than it otherwise would have been. Their second best friend
is the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly the commercial sex
industry literally love having the Rev Fred Nile and the
Catholic Church around. Between them Fred and the Catholic
Church probably contribute more to the profits of the people
running this industry than all of the millions they spend
on paid advertising each year.
This is where I would agree with some of what James is
saying in his observation that some secular media organisations
and journalists have an agenda. The agenda basically is
"show us ya tits luv and shuv another one up the arse of
the Catholic Church and all these neanderthals in society".
If you want to curb that sort of behaviour you do not
pour oil on the troubled waters or stoke up the fires that
are fuelling it. You learn to moderate
your own communication behaviours and persuade other people
‚ rather than try to lecture them about what naughty little
boys and girls they are.
Do you understand my perspective now? All this talk about
"upholding the truth" that the neanderthals go on about
is all codswallop. They have confused the pursuit of
truth with a complex set of behaviours where they are trying
to provide some noble explanation to their behaviour of
grasping for security and certitudes in their lives against
the sense they have that Soddam and Gomorah are closing
in all around them.