Friday, February 5, 2016

What the CDC Got Right

Everybody's up in arms today over the CDC's recommendation that women of childbearing age either get on birth control or give up alcohol. Rightly so. That's stupid. I'm not going to go on birth control. (Catholic! And I actually want babies.) But I'm not going to give up alcohol until menopause either. (Irish Catholic!)

Many others have adequately rebutted the silliness of this latest proclamation of the Pharisaical CDC, creating heavy burdens for people. One rebuttal, however, needs to be rebutted: Bodily autonomy. I've read this hysterical statement more than once: Dead people have more bodily autonomy than we give pregnant women!

Yup. Pregnant women do NOT have bodily autonomy. That's a fact.

It's not because of the baby.

It's because of sex.

Sex is the total gift of one's self. In a marriage, the man and woman become one flesh. That's not just something that sounds nice to say at weddings. They freely chose to give themselves to their spouses, completely, forever. So a man belongs to his wife and a wife to her husband. In modern parlance, they give up their claim to bodily autonomy. And that makes them more human, not less. This idea is so repugnant to the modern mind that sees sex as something that must be given explicit consent to each and every time. Marriage is the perfection of consent. It is given once, forever, nothing held back.

So some more repugnant-sounding implications: One may not refuse sex to one's spouse. Once you've given the gift you've given it for always. The key is generosity. Generosity goes both ways. Without being overly detailed, there have been times where both of us have persisted when the other was disinclined, and times when the amorous spouse graciously took a rain check. It's a lot sexier than it sounds. And the former cases were not rape! It would be like saying, "Husband, I know you are tired but I really need you to help me with the baby tonight." It would be his duty to say yes. If he refused he's being a jerk. If I would have greatly appreciated his help, but he was really done in and I could manage alone for that night, I would be a jerk to insist. It's a fine line. But that generosity of spirit is part of the total self gift of marriage. There's more to it than sexual intercourse, although that is it's fullest expression.

There's also the fruit of that intercourse: Children, sooner or later, in the vast majority of cases. Now we've got another human involved in this! That gift of self the spouses gave to each other creates... LIFE! (maniacal laugh). And guess what? No bodily autonomy there! Even after the birth. Believe me, if I had bodily autonomy I'd be better rested!

But isn't that so sexist? Yes and no. Yes, because biology. Women give birth, breastfeed, have crazy hormonal fluctuations and all the rest of it. Take it up with God. Men and women are different. But, let's not forget who else is in this project. The husband doesn't just say, "Good luck, honey!" and go sit in the waiting room with a cigar for the next twenty years. His total gift of self is completely bound up in the project of raising this new human person as well. No autonomy for him, either. The gift has to keep on giving.

Now of course our culture completely rejects this idea of sex, and insists on clinging to that illusion of bodily autonomy. What else do we have to cling to when we've torn apart the ideal of Christian marriage? There is nothing left to unite a child to his mother and father, nothing to keep a man and woman together outside their mutual whim. It's a cold, loveless, lifeless, lonely alternative.