Everything is connected, and it may sound absurd to link contraception with economics, but think about it:
History will look back and decide that artificial contraception was the most radical invention ever devised by mankind. When the link between the sexual act and procreation was broken it not only changed our sexual behavior, it changed everything.
Most importantly, it changed the way we think about ourselves and our actions. At a deep philosophical and personal level, the link between our actions and their natural consequences are broken. The contraceptive culture brings us to expect that we can have whatever pleasure we want when we want and how we want it, and that we can avoid all the consequences of our actions. In sexual behavior it seemed to be so.
We began to believe that we could do anything and have anything and we could avoid the cost. We assumed that our actions and decisions did not have to result in their natural consequences.
Extrapolate this mentality to the economic sphere and you’ll see what I mean. We tell ourselves that we can have anything we want instantly simply by taking out another loan. If we are the lenders, we insure ourselves against loss in case those loans are not re paid.
Somehow or other we believe the responsibility can always be shifted. Payment of our debt will never really be demanded. The “problem” could always be solved. Paying the price can always be delayed. We could just refinance. Just as we got instant sexual gratification for free, so we thought we should have everything else instantly for free.
If things did go wrong there was always abortion and bankruptcy. They are unpleasant but those final solutions would also get us out of a jam.
What interests me most is that this deferral of the consequences — this attitude that the results of our decisions and actions will never happen and that we can avoid the consequences — has filtered down into our theological understandings as well.
I’m talking about the heresy of universalism and semi-universalism. Universalism is the theological parallel to contraception and financial irresponsibility. Universalism is the idea that everyone will get to heaven in the end and semi universalism is the cowardly form of universalism that tiptoes close to the heresy but doesn’t quite endorse it.
This takes the form of “Well, there is a place called hell but we dare to hope that nobody is actually there.”
This heresy is widespread within the Christian churches and the Catholic Church is not exempt. The sentimental idea that everything is just fine and we can be spiritual without any cost to ourselves, without any hardship or any sacrifice — and we will glide effortlessly into heaven is ubiquitous.
True Catholic teaching is harder and more realistic than that. We believe our decisions and actions matter. Each choice has consequences, for better or for worse. The bill will have to be paid. The debt will be collected. The consequences will meet us.
The death of Jesus Christ pays the ultimate debt for sin, but the Catholic doctrine of purgatory reminds us that the temporal punishment for sin still needs to be paid. While the grace of Christ’s saving work redeems us, we still must do the work of purgation and taking the rap for our own poor choices.
Lent is coming up, and it’s a salutary reminder that paying this debt is much easier in this life than in the next. So let’s roll up our sleeves and prepare for a holy Lent!