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Faith, Reason, and Birth Control

[Note: this was previously published as a Freethinkers of Colorado

A simple explanation of the difference between religion and freethought is that religion is based on faith, while reason serves as the ground for freethought. These two life-stances can create vastly different attitudes on some issues.

Take the subject of birth control. It is no accident that the most vocal opponents of the use of contraceptives term themselves “religious.” They are blinded to the impact of overpopulation in the world because they faithfully cite Genesis 1:28: “And God said to them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.”

Now this decree was fine in the early days when the earth was sparsely populated. High birth rates were desirable–even necessary–for survival. But in the year 2004 our earth is bearing the burden of 6.3 billion people. Resources are being depleted, species are becoming extinct, famine is increasing, and global warming is threatening to make life unbearable–if pollution doesn’t kill us first.

But do anticontraceptionists admit it is time to encourage birth control? No, indeed. They take the direction to “fill the earth” as a commandment to keep filling the bucket. The freethinker looks at the statistics and says, “Hey, the bucket is full. In fact, it’s running over!” A reasonable person knows it’s time to turn off the tap.

Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, of course; some religionists do apply reason to this matter. In 1971, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church recognized that “the assumption that couples have the freedom to have as many children as they can support should be challenged. We can no longer justify bringing into existence as many children as we desire. Our corporate responsibility to each other prohibits this.” In fact, in 1972, the Presbyterians stated that “We who are motivated by the urgency of overpopulation … would preserve the species by responding in faith: Do not multiply–the earth is filled!”

So why is there still so much opposition to contraception? Why do opponents insist that elected officials do all in their power to stop the use of birth control? The Catholic Church demands that candidates support the Church’s position against contraceptives. In 1998, James Dobson of Focus on the Family sent a letter to all Republican legislators in Congress, as well as Republican Governors, demanding that Planned Parenthood, the largest supplier of contraceptives, be defunded.

And why do legislators agree? Governor Owens joined the fight to defund Planned Parenthood here in Colorado. Some members of Congress oppose funding for contraceptive research. They consistently vote against contraceptive coverage in health plans and excuse pharmacists from filling prescriptions for birth control.

President George W. Bush has had the biggest impact by reimposing the global “gag rule,” which effectively cuts off many funds for contraceptives to developing countries, and by stopping support for the U.N. Population Fund.

Some believers may oppose contraception because of faith in a Bible verse, but there clearly must be other motivations to account for the fact that legislators and religious leaders, both of whom should be aware of the poverty and suffering high birthrates can cause, would still be encouraging the biblical order to “multiply.” Perhaps they find advantage in the byproducts of overpopulation–cheap labor for the capitalists, and a new supply of believers for religion.