False Premises

Earlier this month in a Catholic Exchange piece I said that those in support of the HHS mandate think that the Catholic position prohibiting contraception is irrational; I failed to mention that they also think the prohibition is immoral. This is why, in addition to focusing primarily on religious freedom, we must also directly address contraception.

I understand well the argument that with an exclusive focus on religious liberty we build the largest consensus to win the fight against the HHS ruling. However, though I agree with focusing primarily on religious freedom, to exclude discussion of contraception signifies defeat in this particular fight. Left unaddressed and unchallenged, a false premise of this magnitude has the power to thoroughly undermine the argument from the get go. Consider: If prohibiting contraception were immoral, why shouldn’t the government step in? The argument would run thus: “If Catholics want to wound their own people, fine; but we will not allow Catholic employers to wound non Catholic employees!”

In order to expose and debunk the false premise that to oppose contraception is immoral however, we need only show the reasonability of our view. In other words, Church spokespersons should be equipped with well-prepared sound bites which could cause an open-minded viewer to have a second thought. That’s all. The USCCB has produced an unmatched example of conciseness and clarity in its presentation of easily digestible bullet points on the legal problems with the HHS ruling here and here.  They should prepare a similar list outlining the good news of Church teaching on procreation. The list might include explanations of: the blessings of children; responsible parenthood; NFP; the Catholic view of the goodness of the body; and the risks contraception poses to relationships, health, the common good and respect for women. Articles like this one reveal that if authors on a website dedicated to business analysis can make pithy common sense statements causing readers to do a “double-take” on the Catholic understanding of this issue, then Church spokespersons can as well.

These points could then be contrasted with the administration’s catch-phrases, such as describing contraception as “preventive health care.” That phrase is a classic example of verbal engineering and contains an underlying view of human persons, procreation, human sexuality and babies which is opposed not only to Catholic anthropology but to natural law and common sense. Each time it is heard it has a subtle way of cementing false premises into the thought patterns of those who hear it. Or, consider this argument of the administration when presenting its recent “accommodation”:

“…if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

This carefully crafted statement contains the meaning that the religious objection represents the opposite of “reaching out” and “offering care” and is therefore immoral. It also clearly suggests a lack of charity by mentioning “hassles”, which are irrational, and the rejection free “contraceptive care”.

Our side needs to express the good news of the Catholic position as often as the other side expresses their catch phrases. In short, contraception is not care, nor is abortion; neither are they conducive to love, and these points are not difficult to explain.  The good news of Catholic teaching, if proposed with courage and joy, will cause many – indeed many who are broken by the contraceptive culture – to grasp at the very least that the Catholic view on this matter is not immoral because it is full of common sense reasonability. This religious freedom debate depends on this point, and the other side knows it. Do we?

Peter J. Colosi


Dr. Peter J. Colosi is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI.

  • Jackn

    We are needlessly conceding a crucial point in this argument by tacit agreement to the idea that contraceptive services are “health care”. The government, and its bootlickers, must be pressed to honestly explain, what is the medical malady for which contraception is the treatment?  

  • Alecto

    Sadly, it isn’t only the substance of the debate, but the presentation of the Catholic position at all that is lacking.  The public is being misled, yes, but also deprived of any official Catholic response save in a handful of outlets (like the Wall Street Journal).  Even watching “Fair and Balanced” had the nerve to present some Irish nut case claiming to represent a “Catholic” organization as a cogent counterpoint to a true representative of the Church’s position on this issue.  I actually timed the two.  The “Catholics for Choice” spokesmodel was given twice the amount of time to respond and interrupted the priest during the entire segment.  The problem is getting the time, the space and the widespread audience at all, not what to say once Catholics have it. 

  • hombre111

    The Church’s most conservative position possible on birth control is not irrational.  It is reasoned and concerned with the highest of goods.  But a rational moral argument leading to a universal conclusion depends on three things:  1) logic. 2) facts 3) the most adequate point of view. 

     In all three, the argument fails.  1)  Its logic is a complicated series of deductions from the unquestionable starting point: I must do the good.   The conclusion about ABC is at least three or four steps down that deductive chain.   Millions of Catholics, some of our most thoughtful moral theologians, and most sincere non-Catholics do not find that logic convincing.  Non-Catholics must be convinced by its logic, not by the numerous arguments from authority used in Humanae Vitae.   2)  Humanae Vitae concerned about not undermining the statement of Pius XI and Pius XII.  Since chen, compelling new facts have arisen based on the best science which were not taken into consideration by Pope Paul VI.  We have a much deeper and broader understanding of sex within the reality of marriage and family, that carry us far beyond the biologism of Humanae Vitae.   3)  Is the perspective of a celibate male–any celibate male–an adequate point of view to make this kind of judgment binding the consciences of a billion people who are living a different sacrament?   Pope Paul VI eroded his credibility when he did not sit in on the discussions of the educated, prayerful, and sincered married people he invited to Rome to discuss the situation.  The bishops who did sit in on this discussion changed their minds.   The Pope’s absence from those meetings show bad faith. 

    • Carl

      Keep it simple hombre111, Santorum nails it.

      Contraception begets promiscuity,
      Promiscuity begets consequences,
      Consequences begets hardships for all eternity.

      hombre111, are you carrying a white flag of surrender?  I find nothing positive or inspirational in your post…Would you have good people quit? 

      • hombre111

        Actually, as a good logician, I deny your major.  That is, I deny the universal statement you made in your first sentence, “Contraception begets promiscuity.”  Sometimes.  But as an old pastor, I have known thousands of people who have used contraception and are not promiscuous.   Since your major is not valid, the whole logical structure falls. 

        I would advise people to accept their marriage as a sacrament, which means the place where they are both going to meet God.  I think the Theology of the Body has marvelous insights but it is not the whole package.  At this moment, the book I recommend for Catholic couples is “Love, Reason, and God’s Story,” by David Cloutier.  A marvelous reading, inspiring even an old priest.  He is one of the young theologians, a lay person, and…married.   God bless. 

        • Carl

          Logic and word definition Failures:

          synonyms of beget are: effect, bring, bring about, draw on, generate,  etc.  I did not type always, equals, absolutely.

          And besides its correct to say that someone who denies Church teachings has a promiscuous Faith.

          synonyms of the second use of the word promiscuous: assorted, indiscriminate, mixed, varied, rag tag, miscellaneous.

          And CFM is on its death bed just like most religious orders who dissented from Church teachings. RIP

          • hombre111

            You missed the point.   What you offered was a deductive syllogism.  It begins with a universal statement.  This is called your major premise, by logicians.  Everything depends on the validity of that universal statement.  If it falls, the whole argument falls.

            So:  Contraception begets promiscuity.  For some.  Not for others.  Ergo, the universal statement is false.  Ergo, the rest of the argument collapses. 

            • Carl

              No, you’re missing it…
              It’s simple, if a person accepts contraception into their life they are promiscuous! 
              CCC 1865 Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.  It results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgement of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.

              You seem to take the CCC1865 and say, Oh its OK to dance with the devil because a small sin here and there doesn’t necessarily mean I’m really a sinner.

              You’re really parsing words and logic.
              Sin begets sin.
              Sin creates a proclivity to sin .
              Are we going to argue whether the words beget or proclivity are deductive syllogisms? LOL

              I’m no English major, if you want to critic my use of the English language I can accept that.  I will not accept promiscuous Church Teachings though.

              • hombre111

                Naah.  They were prayerful, respectful, responsible people following their consciences. 

    • Sue

      Pat and Patti Crowley, leaders of the deceptively named “Catholic Family Movement” were on that mid-60s birth control commission – and they shamelessly peddled volumes of so-called evidence in favor of contraception.   Are those the “sincere married people” you mean?  It seems they were in the pay of Rockefeller Foundation, nemesis of the Church and its teachings on life.   They were not the only church “advisors” rolling in money from the Rockefellers.  

      When it comes to a Church decision on sexual morality, I’d rather take the word of a male bishop who could actually keep his vow of celibacy  (what a testament to chastity!) than fake Rockefeller-bought Catholics, or any type of sexual libertine, for that matter.

      • hombre111

        As a young priest, I started the Christian Family Movement in my parish and those loving married people were an anchor to a new priest.  I have been in and out of the movement for a good part of my life, depending on my assignments.  The Christian Family Movement is still activeand a tremendous help for families.  Go on line and get some of their stuff, especially their little magazine, and judge for yourself.   I don’t know where you are getting that Rockefeller junk from, but it is the usual right wing cartoon.  Patti Crowley, still alive, is a saint.  Still active in her parish, still a loving part of the Church. 

  • Carl

    Contraception use is both irrational and immoral, why…

    VAN SUSTEREN: … do you think that birth control is … is harmful to women and
    harmful to society?

    SANTORUM: … the whole concept of sexual liberation, sexual freedom has had its
    down sides, and certainly birth control is part of that with a dramatic
    increase in sexually transmitted diseases, dramatic increase in out of wedlock
    births, a dramatic increase in the number of abortions…The bottom line is there are consequences to the sexual revolution that
    we are living with in America today.

  • Sue

    I agree with all of the wonderful above, but!  would like to point out that this argument could *possibly* be extended to cover the good news about the *free market* which is being denied by another hidden HHS mandate premise.  Why does the employer need to be the middle man at all – corruptions and distortions always occur when you have a third party payor.  Except that those are usually economic distortions, but here you have what should be an INDIVIDUAL spiritual decision being scooped up by an employer proxy.   Why should what gets paid for on my behalf be up to anybody but me???

    I don’t want to distract from the great framing Peter Nicolosi has given to this issue, but just to suggest it might wake more people up and cause them to take up the fight  if they were making their own decisions about health care.

    • Carl

      You’re no distraction at all!
      Once upon a time there was no health insurance–really not popular until the 1960’s.

      Employers originally offered these benifits to attract the best employees. Socialist have been trying to take over healthcare since at least 1950. By the 1990’s this benefit became stardard with being employed—and the costs of these benefits became hidden much like taxes.

      I think if people kept all their wages and then wrote out separate checks each month it would be a real eye opener to many.
      FICA 7%
      Fed effective rate 8%
      State 2-7%
      Health Ins 15-20%
      Dental Ins 1%
      Disability Ins 10-20%
      This “free entitlement” society is literally killing us.

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