98% of American Catholics use contraception (and what atheists can learn from this)

A shot of a woman holding birth control pills in her lap

Birth control pills: frowned upon by an insular group of crazy old male celibates.

The debate over the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception has been reignited with a recent ruling by the Obama administration that requires health insurance plans to offer birth control to women free of charge, even if that plan is offered by a religious organisation such as the Catholic Church. Political commentator E.J Dionne Jr. accused Obama of throwing his catholic allies “under the bus” with this new ruling, which would force the church to provide birth control in direct contradiction with its teachings.

Supporters of the new policy have seized on a report released in 2011, which showed that 98% of Catholic women used some form of birth control not sanctioned by the church. Reuters reports:

A new report from the Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, shows that only 2 percent of Catholic women, even those who regularly attend church, rely on natural family planning.

Catholic women aren’t exceptional in their use of contraception, these statistics bring them roughly in line with the rest of the population, including members of other religions:

“In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” said the report’s lead author Rachel Jones.

She said most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the intrauterine device (IUD).

“This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception,” Jones said.

The only people who would be surprised by the findings of this report would be members of the clergy, who despite whatever other credentials they may have, are surely no experts on female sexuality. Critics of the Church would argue that their policy of denying contraception will only harm the vast majority of women, including those in the Church’s congregation. And they’re absolutely correct. Despite what the Church may believe, it’s obvious that most women rely on birth control for family planning, and it makes economic sense to include things like the birth control pill in any health coverage.

Pope Benedict in ceremonial robes with his palms raised

Pope Benedict, doing his best impression of The Emperor from Star Wars. Image Courtesy of The Barcelona Reporter

So what can atheists learn from this? It’s obvious that the vast majority of religious adherents have common sense and that they can and will defy the teachings of their churches when those teachings are either impractical, dangerous, or vastly out of line with current community standards. However, religion and spirituality obviously play a crucial role in these people’s lives, and despite everything else, they will not willingly abandon it completely.

All too often atheists mock and deride the dogma of any given church in the unspoken belief that this will make believers question their faith. They will point out the absurdity of a story like Noah’s ark, or they’ll give a mocking nickname to a deity: God becomes a “Sky Wizard,” Jesus becomes “Zombie Jesus.” This sort of mockery may amuse fellow atheists, but it will never win over anyone who considers themselves religious. Very few people are won over by arguments that attack their ego, but more importantly: excessively attacking the dogma ignores completely why most people are drawn to religion in the first place.

An organisation like the Catholic Church is very  bad at doing things like giving advice on family planning or explaining the way the natural world works, but what the church does do very well is provide a sense of community and spiritual fulfillment to its membership. To attack the stranger elements of catholic dogma ignores this fact completely. The vast majority of Catholics (or Protestants, or Muslims etc.) are well aware that their spiritual leaders aren’t always right. They adopt the teachings that work best for their lives and politely ignore the rest.

Perhaps even more important is the realisation that the opposition to birth control isn’t a position of Catholics per se, but rather a position of the clergy. Even as their own congregation abandons their backwards and dangerous teachings, they will be forced to either adapt or be relegated to the pages of history. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t attack the positions of the church when they impede public health or scientific progress; but it’s important to understand that the views of a few old men in the Vatican may not be an accurate representation of the views of their followers.

Read More:

Most Catholic women use birth control banned by church – Reuters

Obama’s breach of faith over contraceptive ruling – New York Times

Catholics need to preach what we practice – Salon

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Beliefs, Morals, Gender issues, Health, Medicine, Science, Technology, Uncategorized

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6 Comments on “98% of American Catholics use contraception (and what atheists can learn from this)”

  1. Mr. Anonymous
    May 23, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    “The only people who would be surprised by the findings of this report would be members of the clergy” – I assume this is hyperbole as I seriously doubt you could find anyone who would be surprised by these findings.

    “They can and will defy the teachings of their churches when those teachings are either impractical, dangerous, or vastly out of line with current community standards.” – This is a good summary and can be widely generalised. Even when they hold an ideal, people won’t always do what they think is the right thing when it is difficult to do so…

    “they will be forced to either adapt or be relegated to the pages of history.” – This assumes that leaders will be eliminated and only followers will survive. There are always two options, conform to your surroundings, or work to change your surroundings.

    Overall, very good summary and explanation of what many people see as an irreconcilable contradiction. Namely that people are both idealistic AND rational AND human. That is, we strive for what we think is good, we do it within reason, and we typically fall far short where we would like to be.

    Although this does definitely apply to your stereotypical atheist, anyone can fall into the trap of simply making fun of what they don’t understand.

    • James Hill
      June 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

      “Although this does definitely apply to your stereotypical atheist, anyone can fall into the trap of simply making fun of what they don’t understand.”

      Absolutely correct, and the smarter a person is, the more at risk they are of falling into this trap.

  2. Anonymous
    June 16, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    I think your style of writing is disrespectful and childish.

    • June 17, 2012 at 6:43 am #

      well you don’t have a right “not to be offended”, so tough.

      comment noted, yet I’m sure is dutifully ignored. Instead post your views on the issue as to why the author’s writing are wrong.

  3. April 29, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    Magnificent goods from you, man. I have be aware your stuff previous to and you are just too magnificent.

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