Modern Advances and the Moral Order

by Mary Walker

I think one of the most fallacious arguments I’ve heard in the context of debating religion is that the Catholic Church is patently against technology and innovation. A girlfriend whom I love dearly said to me a few weeks ago, “The Church will come around on things like birth control, it’s only a matter of time, they’re just slow to catch up on these things.” To anyone who knows the Church at all, this can be seen as plainly illogical; her teachings come from Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, not the whims of our culture. The Church changing her teaching on a serious moral issue is exceedingly rare due to this very fact. Furthermore, the Pope has his own YouTube channel and Facebook has turned out to be a great evangelizing tool. I find great joy in finding Catholic music I can download on iTunes and rocking out to it in my car, to the bewilderment of my fellow drivers. It is possible to love some technology and to oppose the technology that disrupts the moral order. In other words, we as Catholics are totally on board with technological advances until they start being used to accomplish evil ends.

I’m speaking, of course, mostly about the reproductive arena of moral teaching. The technologies I mentioned before, the internet and sound systems, are mostly morally neutral, they can be used for good or for bad. JP II used the phrase, “language of the body” to refer to the way men and women’s bodies “speak” to each other in the marital act. For instance, most of us know what it’s like to be away from a spouse or significant other. We can talk with them over the phone or the internet, but it really isn’t the same as being right there with them. This is even more true when the conversation involves serious matters, like telling someone “I love you” or the like. It’s just not the same hearing it over the phone as it is hearing from a person sitting right in front of you. Likewise when birth control is injected into the marital act, it scrambles and distances the way our bodies talk to each other. I won’t develop the entire argument against birth control here (if you want to read more about it, see Dr. Shaughnessy’s article on it), but suffice to say, people have been trying to find ways to circumvent God’s will for centuries, a pill designed to do the same is nothing new to our Holy Church.

The same can be said for any number of modern “remedies” that require evil.  Embryonic stem cell research and In Vitro Fertilization both involve the killing of unborn babies and are therefore morally unacceptable because of that evil; not because it’s some new fangled invention that the Church is skeptical of, but because of centuries-old moral teaching. There are good inventions and bad inventions and the bad ones will be deemed as such by our wonderful Magisterium. Trust that everything is judged on a centuries-old scale, which is really all we can count on in a secular world where what is bad today might not necessarily be bad tomorrow.

Just a few months ago, a girlfriend of mine was telling me she did not think the abortion issue was as black and white as we’d been raised to believe. She was telling me that she objected to, “priests telling women how to live their lives” and that, “it’s just a group of cells anyway, life doesn’t begin at conception”. But this evening, as I gaze at her Facebook wall plastered with images of the ultrasound of her unborn child, I can’t help but smile, knowing that God uses technology in such good and beautiful ways sometimes.

2 Comments

  1. SteveWalter /

    This post glosses over the good done by reproductive technology. The same pills that are used in contraception can be used to treat otherwise serious and life-threatening conditions in women. Maybe my ethics are confused, but I would rather save the life of a woman already born than cause her death in the name of preserving the possibility of conception.

    With all technology comes evil. Nuclear power came along with nuclear weapons. The good parts of the internet (like this blog) come with millions of sites promoting evils like racism and sexual exploitation.

    Really, the debate centers on two things: 1.) Does the church have a right to require those who use hormones for non-contraceptive means to disclose their private health information? And 2.) Does any one human being have the right to demand that his morality ought to be imposed on anyone else?

    The answer to the first question is clearly no. The church has no right to know a woman’s medical conditions if she does not wish to disclose them. In fact, no employer has that right unless said conditions affect her ability to do her job.

    The second question is a bit more complex, but in the end, its answer is also no. The church has a right to be a moral compass for its members, but not for non-members. While we are commanded to let our good works shine forth as a city on a hill, we can not demand that non-catholics adopt a catholic ethic. Any legal restrictions backed by the Church appear to do just that, forcing goats to dress as sheep.

    If we, as Catholics, are to make good use of technologies like Facebook, would it not be wise to lead with the Gospel of Christ, and not birth control?

  2. Matt Sciba /

    Yes, birth control pills are used to address other medical issues. Whether that is the best medical option is beyond my expertise.

    That being said, Catholics who are prescribed the birth control pill for other medical issues are obliged to practice abstinence in during the time the wife is most likely to become pregnant. I agree that technology can be and is abused, but that doesn’t make the technology itself evil. The action of abuse can be evil. For example, the birth control pill was designed for evil means (eugenics) but now has a legitimate use for good (treatment of tumors). To use birth control as a means of contraception is an abuse of the technology which God gave us because it both violates the marital union, and destroys human life.

    Answers to your questions:

    1. I haven’t heard a single member of the Church hierarchy demand to know the medical conditions of any of those working in the Church. Does the woman have a right to demand that the Church pay for certain things which the Church deems immoral? Absolutely not. The freedom of religion is enshrined in our Constitution and laws.

    2. The second question: “Does any one human being have the right to demand that his morality ought to be imposed on anyone else?” Every law is a law of morality. Judeo-Christian law states that murder is wrong. Sharia law embraces honor killings, which includes killing victims of rape. Pro-life advocates wish abortion to be outlawed. Pro-abortion advocates wish abortion to be legal. Both are moral positions. Theft, insider trading, property zoning, environmental issues, etc. all are moral issues in that one believes one method of action is right, the other is wrong.

    To say that it is not right for me to impose my morality on you is a moral argument in itself. By saying that I cannot impose my morality is saying that your morality is more important than my morality.