Project Canterbury

The Prevention of Conception, Commonly Called Birth Control

by Charles Gore, D.D., D.C.L., LL.D.
Formerly Bishop of Oxford

London: A.R. Mowbray, no date.

DURING the present century there has been a very widespread propaganda of the ideas and methods of what is (very euphemistically) described as 'Birth Control'-which in reality means the use of contrivances by which the sexual act can be separated off at will from its natural consequence in the production of offspring and the former can be indulged in without 'risk' of the latter.

In the early stages of this propaganda it was associated with the names of those who were called, or called themselves, atheists, and it was regarded with horror by the respectable and religious world. It is still, both on the Continent, in America, and at home, in the main in the hands of the declared foes of 'institutional religion.' But latterly there has been in one respect, at least in England, a conspicuous change. A large number of good and religious people, influenced by 'hard cases' within their experience, or generally by the known conditions of modern life, and [3/4] the appalling number of 'unwanted' babies, have been driven to advocate these practices for the prevention of conception or to condone them, if they are used under severe restrictions. 'The thing,' they say, 'ought not to be broadcast. Its public advertisement ought to be prohibited, and the clinics, or other public institutions, ought not to be allowed to give instruction in the prevention of conception; but it is not wrong in itself. There is, moreover, no prohibition of it in Holy Scripture. We can leave the discussion of its consequences, social, economical, or medical, to the sciences concerned, and meanwhile acquiesce in the use of these methods by good people under proper advice, where it is necessary. The thing is widely abused, no doubt; but it may have its uses. It may be very dangerous in its consequences as indiscriminately indulged in, but not really wrong if judiciously used.' It is especially to this state of mind that I wish to address myself.

In the main I shall be speaking to the members of the Church of England and the Free Churches; and I shall not base what I have to say on the Moral Theology of the Latin Church, which many of us hold to need fundamental reconsideration. In stating my intentions thus I should explain that the League of National Life (under whose aegis I am writing) is not a 'denominational' association; and does not inquire into the religious professions of its members; but it [4/5] proposes to authorize and circulate publications of its individual members who wish to appeal in particular to their own 'denomination' (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Free Church, Jewish, or whatever it may. be), keeping their own responsibility for what they say.

As to the absence of any Scriptural prohibition of the practices in question I shall speak later on, here only remarking that we search the Scriptures in vain for any direct prohibition of suicide, common as that practice was in New Testament days, but believe none the less that 'the Everlasting' has 'fixed His canon 'gainst self-slaughter.'

But first of all, I am going to plead with the moderate advocates or apologists of 'Birth Control' that to judge rightly about any novel proposal in the region of traditional morality, it is necessary to study the movement, whence the proposal has emanated, as a whole, both in its motives and (so far as these have already appeared) in its consequences. That is my first point. It seems to me idle to attempt to consider the question as if it were a minor matter, and concerned only or chiefly a few hard cases, among respectable married people. It is in fact a world-wide movement and crusade of the utmost importance for good or for evil to mankind as a whole.

I. The world-wide movement and its motives. For forming a judgement on it I will refer specially [5/6] to the Austrian Johann Ferch's work, because it has recently been introduced in an English translation (with notable omissions) by a lady as much respected among us for religious zeal as Miss Maude Royden. [Birth Control. (Williams & Norgate, 1926.)] (The omissions, I ought to explain, are due in the main to the strong disagreement of the translator and of the editor with the author's demand for the legalization of abortion, under competent medical superintendence, during the first three months of pregnancy. In consequence of this disagreement they have not altogether omitted, but abbreviated, his advocacy.) I shall rely also on Margaret Sanger's The Pivot of Civilization from the United States. [Published by Jonathan Cape, 1923.] These two are works of enthusiastic and impassioned advocates. I shall use also the attempt at a calm summary of arguments pro and con, drawing on the whole to a favourable conclusion, with the title Birth Control and the State by C. P. Blacker. [Kegan Paul, 1926.] Finally I shall refer to the vehement, but reasoned and documented, repudiation and denunciation of the movement as a whole, by the Frenchman Paul Bureau, in D'Indiscipline des Moeurs, translated into English under the title Towards Moral Bankruptcy. [Constable, 1926. A summary of its results is to be found in Denis Gwynne's Catholic Reaction in France, chap, viii, (Macmillan, 1924.)]

[7] I urge the careful reading of the first two of these books because they make quite evident what the movement is out to accomplish and what its attitude is towards the whole religious and moral tradition of Christianity. Thus Ferch, in the chapter headed 'Love the Ancient Right,' states his aim broadly (p. 53): 'The right to love' (and this of course means to give love its sexual expression) 'must be no longer united to the compulsion to bear children; each individual should be able to be happy without infringing the rights of another. The lie must be exposed that lovers who enjoy sex-union must always be creators of life . . . for this reason it will make for human happiness to free sex-union from the yoke which can without contradiction be called "compulsory motherhood."' In this sense it is 'the fight to set love free' (p. 121) in which the movement is engaged.

The frankest hostility is displayed towards the Christian moral tradition as touching sexuality. 'Alive to the importance of sex-life the Church included it in religious laws of morality, though nobody could justify the connection between sexuality and belief in God, or could fail to see the objections to putting sexual life under the sway of ecclesiastical despotism' (p. 54). 'Morality, morals, ethics, have no fixed forms thousands of years old: the human will creates them according to present-day conditions. A moral law broken by a hundred and ninety-nine out of a thousand, [7/8] mocked at, has ceased to count' (p. 78). As sexual life is always a part of the passing stage of development, so the changes which have affected everything else must also affect the sexual code of morality which legislates for sex-life' (p. 50).

I leave aside for the moment the authors misunderstanding of what the Christian code concerning sexual life as, for example, it appeals in the New Testament, really is. Also I will be content merely to call attention to the tendency, which almost always appears in the propaganda of 'new movements,' to exaggerate the success of what is new and to ignore the strength of what is old, because the former is habitually noisy and the latter habitually silent. All I am now calling attention to is the explicitness with which the aim of the movement is stated, and its attitude towards the Christian moral standard. Herr Ferch writes as if the question were one which touches mainly married people, but no one will doubt effectual 'freeing ' of sexual relations from the 'fear ' of offspring means in the world as we know it, wholly without regard to 'marriage'--whatever that term may come to mean under the new morality.

These remarks apply equally to The Pivot of Civilization except that this book is written especially from the Feminist point of view. I speak, as one who hast been an advocate of the 'Women's movement' so far as it has meant--[8/9] what in the main it has meant in this country--the movement to secure for women political emancipation, freedom of entrance into industry and the professions, and all such opportunities as minister to the realization of personality. But there is a feminism of what is in my judgement, a far worse sort, which would repudiate all headship of man over woman and substitute only comradeship, and which, finding in motherhood an immense hindrance alike to business and to pleasure, and demanding at the same time freedom of full sex-expression, is driven to regard with the greatest disgust what is called 'compulsory motherhood.'

No one can ignore how much there has been in our actual tradition--which can only in a limited sense be called Christian--about the relations of men and women which justifies this repulsion and calls for alteration--calls for it loudly in the name of the really Christian ideal. But what The Pivot of Civilization calls for is not less than a revolution. It calls (p. 136) for 'a new conception of sex.' Havelock Ellis is quoted with strong approval as saying that 'sexual activity is not merely a baldly propagative act, nor, when propagation is put aside, is it merely the relief of distended vessels. It is something more even than the foundation of a great social institution. It is the function by which all the finer activities of the organism, physical and psychic, may be developed and satisfied.' Thus (p. 134) 'in the [9/10] sphere of sex, the great source and root of all human experience, it is upon the basis of Birth Control--the voluntary direction of her own sexual expression--that woman must take her first step in the assertion of freedom and self-respect.'

This book also abounds in depreciatory and condemnatory references to the authority of the Christian tradition in sex matters. 'Slowly but surely we are breaking down the taboos that surround sex. . . . The codes that have surrounded sexual behaviour in the so-called Christian communities, the teachings of the Churches concerning chastity and sexual purity, the prohibition of the laws, and the hypocritical conventions of society, have all demonstrated their failure as safeguards against the chaos produced and the havoc wrought by the failure to recognize sex as a divine force in human nature--as great as, if indeed not greater than, hunger' (p. 223).

2. The methods proposed, ancient and modern. It will be better before going further to describe with some particularity what are the methods proposed as 'birth prevention' or more strictly as prevention of conception. The inquiry is very distasteful but necessary, and we must not shrink from it.

The only birth-preventive which is properly so-called is the producing of abortion--the destruction [10/11] of the embryo in the first stages of its existence. This was widely practiced in earlier ages, and the Christian Church condemned it very emphatically from the first as equivalent to infanticide.

In spite of Ferch's modified approval, we must acknowledge that the advocates of 'Birth Control' have mostly asked for not mitigation of this condemnation. But they recognize that abortion is very commonly practiced in this country; and in France and Austria, as well as elsewhere, has obtained a disastrously wide acceptance and claims to have been made safe-a claim which, I suppose, medical authority would refuse to allow. Thus the advocates of 'contraception' can justly distinguish their cause from the justification of abortion; but when they suggest that their methods are the surest safeguard against the practice of abortion, by making it unnecessary, the evidence from France is overwhelmingly against them. [Bureau, pp. 25, 73.] Abortion appears to spread with the spread of the use of contraceptives, and the conscience which yields to the latter is found often to yield to the former, when it presents itself as necessary owing to the failure of the preliminary precautions.

The only truly contraceptive method known to antiquity was what is called Onanism (from a [11/12] perhaps mistaken interpretations of an incident in the Old Testament) or coitus interruptus. [For the sin of Onan which Jehovah avenged may be the refusal to 'raise up seed unto his brother.'] This is described by Marie Stopes and by G. Courtenay Beale as the method 'perhaps most widely in use of all' and 'exceedingly prevalent.' [Wise Parenthood, p. 46. Wise Wedlock, p. 121.] The reason of the prevalence appears, we should notice, to be the difficulties besetting newer methods, or the moral objections felt to them. But Stopes and Beale use the strongest language in condemning this practice on the grounds alike of 'aesthetic' and of health. 'Where this practice is habitually resorted to, it becomes one of the most fruitful causes of neurasthenia in women.' 'Gravely injurious to women's nervous organization.' 'We would utter our emphatic warning against it.'

But when we proceed to the more modern methods (apart from the observance of 'safe periods' which will be spoken of later) we are surprised to find them, all but one, objected to by the advocates of the contraceptive methods just quoted. Thus of the 'metal pin' or other like instrument for women we read: 'For normal women they are entirely to be condemned.' Then the 'condom,' or sheath for the male, comes up for consideration; and these writers find both physical and 'aesthetic' objections to it. 'Husbands are as a rule somewhat reluctant to adopt this method.' We cannot wonder. But I have [12/13] been told by a young doctor that it is the method which the younger members of the profession--horrified at the multitude of 'unwanted children' born into the world--are disposed to recommend. Then there is the method of the douche, which is set aside on the ground of its frequent ineffectiveness as well as on physiological grounds. And finally only one method is left, that of the 'rubber [or metal] cap' or 'check pessary,' which for greater security may be couple with the 'soluble quinine pessary.' This method 'is the only one which I can sincerely recommend.' [Stopes, p. 43; Beale, p. 131 ff.]

It is impossible to read the accounts given of this method without seeing that, though doctors, with their manipulative skill, may regard it as practicable, the ordinary woman, with more bungling fingers, would not find it so; or, if she were used to it, would use it ineffectively. This is admitted by the writers I am referring to. I suppose they are the two most widely read advocates of the newer methods for preventing conception in this country: and I draw the conclusion that the boast that science has discovered methods both securely effective and safe from the point of view of health is very premature. This is admitted by Beale: 'There has been exceedingly little development in methods of prevention for a generation past. No single method is infallible . The great and real danger arises from the human factor--from [13/14] carelessness, impatience, a sliding into easy ways' (p. 136). We cannot be surprised if the methods in actual use have by frequent failure in effectiveness increased the recourse to abortion and not taken its place. It would appear as if constant medical supervision such as the mass of people cannot have would be necessary to make the precautions effective in ordinary cases.

All this is very decidedly confirmed by Ferch. 'In spite of the most serious research work no one has succeeded up to the present day in finding a single method able to prevent conception with absolute certainty. ... Apart from all those partly useless and partly dangerous contrivances such as Paris sponges, soluble pessaries, and so forth, only one thing answering its purpose remains: the check pessary' (p. 61). It is 'the only hygienic and good preventative worth consideration in preventing conception.' (The preventative 'most commonly used'--coitus interruptus--is described as 'the cause of serious nervous and physical suffering to husband and wife,' and the 'French letter' as 'discredited now and for the future.') And the check pessary requires the services of a doctor month by month to fix and replace it at least for some time, after which 'a woman with a certain amount of dexterity' may learn under medical instruction to do it for herself (p. 64). Apart from the doctor's help the use of it brings about 'frequent and deplorable failures.' Even doctors often make [14/15] mistakes (p. 67). But 'a thousand times better small inconvenience and expense than the dangers of conception and birth,' when for various reasons a child is not desirable (pp. 68. f.).

I should add that Dr. Blacker in his little book referred to above (p. 47) says that 'Before proceeding to discuss the arguments heretofore propounded, it is necessary to emphasize that from the technical point of view a really satisfactory contraceptive does not yet exist. The chief disadvantage attaching to the contraceptive used by the man is 'the impossibility for inducing the individual whose procreation we would wish to restrict to use any contraceptive at all.'

I have refrained from spying anything about the bearing of the use of these appliances upon natural modesty and purity of feeling because I should be warned off that field as a celibate clergyman: and so far I have only been concerned to let the advocates of the movement state their own case.

3. The consequences of the movement. Now I will pass to the consequences of this world movement especially as seen in France-the country where perhaps it has taken the deepest and widest hold, and for the longest period, and I will make use of Paul Bureau's Towards Moral Bankruptcy. Some of us may find ourselves a little distrustful of his declamatory style: it may make us suspicious of exaggeration, like the declamations of writers of the opposite camp. [Strong partisans no doubt are apt to exaggerate. In England, for instance, there appears to be reason to question whether the actual purchase of 'appliances' in the shops is not greatly exaggerated both by those who favour and those who denounce their use.] Also his statistics may leave some of us somewhat bewildered; but no one can fail to be impressed by the lamentations of terrified French politicians and writers, of divers parties and creeds, contemplating the ruin of France, as approaching and inevitable, unless the movement of the birth-rate can be reversed (pp. 65-72, 206 ff.); nor can any one doubt the main cause of the approaching disaster-that it is the deliberate refusal of offspring and the widespread adoption of the 'Neo-Malthusian' methods of preventing it-nor any more is it open to doubt that there lies behind the refusal of offspring a determination to separate the sexual act, as being an act necessary for the satisfaction of human instinct, from its natural consequences in the production of offspring.

Perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the greatness of the peril is the startling fact that France has been admitting vast numbers of Italians, Armenians, and other foreigners, to recolonize its desolate regions, and causing the migration of large bodies of fervently Catholic, and therefore fertile, Bretons to the vacant districts of the south.

There are those who tell us that what France [16/17] needs is not the increase of its birth-rate but decrease of its death-rate. But those who study the movement which has been the main cause of the vast diminution of births will not readily believe that, till that is reversed, there will be any such revival of the love of children or the care for children as will promote a decrease in the death-rate at least among infants (see p. 140).

What I claim as proved by the evidence from France is that the movement there has been rooted in immorality and irreligion-that it is a decadent movement--and that its startling and disastrous results everywhere in France (except in the small area where the authority of the Church which condemns it is still dominant) constitutes the gravest warning to England or to any other country or class which appears to be travelling the same road. For the voices of warning are heard from far beyond France. You may hear intelligent American Protestants saying: 'It appears fairly certain that, if we go on as we are going at present, the future in this country will be very soon with the Roman Catholics and the Jews.' And those who desire to see Canada or Australia controlled by an Anglo-Saxon stock are, as we all know, in a condition of well-justified dismay.

I am not so foolish as to suppose that general considerations of patriotism and public morality will act as a sufficient determent with 'the average man.' The average man is selfish, and every [17/18] man, even the best, is apt to think his own case a peculiarly hard one which justifies liberties. What I contend is that the public evidence--especially as it has been collected and summarized for France--does show unmistakably that the movement is a decadent movement, rooted in an immoral selfishness, and disastrous in its results on any nation or class or race which gives it free admittance. And my present point is that these general considerations should deeply influence the judgement of any one who wants to know whether the thing is 'right or wrong in itself.' If its dominant motives and its consequences are what they appear to be, is it not the reasonable conclusion for any one who believes in the value and authority of the Christian moral tradition, and in the moral standard of the New Testament, that he must give it no countenance? But of this standard I shall halve more to say.

In this consideration of consequences, I have hitherto said nothing about the effect of even the safest of the contraceptive practices on health. I am no authority in medical science; but I rejoice that the League of National Life has begun its literary career by publishing Dr. McCann's pamphlet on this very question. [The Dangers of Contraception. 6d. (The League of National Life, 168 Victoria Street, S.W.1.)] I believe that very few Englishmen have as good a right as he has to speak on the subject, and there is some reason for suspecting that, if the medical [18/19] profession were as a profession a little more courageous in giving us public guidance, we should find Dr. McCann's conclusions widely supported by those best informed.

Before, however, leaving the consideration of the grounds and consequences of the movement of 'Birth Control,' I must make some reference to the little book already referred to, Birth Control and the State, which is widely different from those hitherto noticed. It is cold and unimpassioned. It admits a great deal that is urged against the practice and the modes by which it is popularized, but finally concludes in its favour under restrictions. As to proposed 'restrictions' I must speak directly. But the book I am now considering appears to me to be in part occupied by considerations of the utmost uncertainty (as is admitted)--such considerations, I mean, as to 'the optimum population for a given country,' and the bearings of population on war and on revolution, and the possibility of making birth control in the future eugenic instead of 'dysgenic' by increasing its practise among the poor and reducing it among the professional classes and the rich. I was once present at a meeting of economists at which the opinion was expressed that the rise of the practice of birth control was likely to prove economically as important as the invention of the steam-engine; and no one criticized this statement But it did not appear as if economics would be likely to enable us to [19/20] prophesy with any confidence as to the effect on the world of the practice of birth control in the remoter future. The most important consideration remains, I think--the question of its bearing on the morality and nerve of a nation.

4. The 'moderate' advocates. Those who favour a moderate use of contraception only in order to meet hard cases within the married state, and because the purpose of matrimony is not limited to 'the procreation of children,' would agree to repudiate even with indignation the grounds on which the advocacy of 'Neo-Malthusianism' has been commonly conducted. [Catholic theologians teach that the sexual act exists for a triple end (cf. the Introd. to the Marriage Service in the Prayer Book), 'ad procreandam prolem, ad fovendum amorem, ad sedendam concupiscentiam.' The vehement advocates of Birth Control constantly ignore this, and assert that the Church recognizes only the first end.] They would acknowledge that the public and unrestricted diffusion pf instruction in the use of contraception is demoralizing and pregnant with disaster. They would make it illegal. They would still forbid institutions supported by public money from giving the instruction. [Some of the moderate advocates, however, do not deprecate this, but strongly urge it.] But they think it may be given by doctors to their patients in private, where there appear to be good grounds for giving it, and practised accordingly.

But could any dream be more vain than this [20/21] proposal for restriction? The world has now been flooded by; this propaganda for more than a generation. Everybody knows about it, and apparently in almost all circles it is a topic of common discussion, not least among the young. Is it likely that, where democracy is any sort of reality, or any kind of freedom of the press exists, this public propaganda is going to be stopped? Moreover, is there any justice in saying that there is need for these practices in a good many cases among respectable people under modern conditions, but that clinics supported by public money must not propagate the requisite knowledge? If it is useful and not wrong in itself, it is surely our duty to let this be widely known among the poor, who need it more than the rich. [I think Miss Maude Royden's plea (op. cit., p. 20) and Mr. C. Rolands, ibid. p. 36, are (so far) irresistible.]

The proposal to keep this special knowledge as an esoteric mystery, guarded by all sorts of precautions, is a proposal which it is hard to take seriously. And the attempt to consider 'Birth Control' as if it only had its application in married life, is refuted by all the evidence. 'The enemy (if it is an enemy) has come in like a flood.' Our petty little channels and dams will be wholly immersed, and useless. The practical effect of this sort of carefully guarded doctrine is expressed in the cynical French proverb: 'ça se fait, mais ça ne se dit pas.' 'You must not preach this [21/22] thing, but of course it will be practised, and you had better maintain a judicious silence about it at least in public.' M. Paul Bureau has some scathing pages on the disastrous effect of this 'conspiracy of silence' among religious people in France and among the clergy and in the confessional. [See pp. 88 f., 146 ff., 512 ff. For recent improvement see p. 525.]

But it will be said, if it is too late to stop this propaganda what is the use of denouncing it or that which it seeks to promote? Is it not better to seek to restrict and moderate it? To that I would reply that the motives and consequences of this movement in general are such as must convince us that it is an evil thing and not a good--that it is against the will of God, and the enemy of His kingdom. On this something more will have to be said. At present all I am saying is this--the acquiescent but restrictive tactics are quite in vain. Their only effect would be (or must I not say 'has been'?) to withdraw the opposition of the righteous and God-fearing and leave the field upon for the forward march of the enemy. Our familiar English Bible says: 'When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.' The critics have no doubt I rightly corrected this translation in harmony with the old Greek and Latin Bibles; but I think no one can deny that the English text expresses well the spirit of Isaiah [22/23] and of the Bible as a whole. When any desolating evil is overspreading society with seemingly irresistible force, it bids us recognize it as evil and concentrate the force of those who believe in God and would do His will for vigorous resistance; and though they may be but a 'little flock' they are assured of ultimate victory, through whatever depth of disaster--assured of it as God is God.

What we need is to see the Church of Christ--using the word in its largest and least defined sense--to see the Church of Christ in every land gathering the forces of righteousness for resistance to this propaganda as to an evil thing, and making the strongest appeal possible to the dormant but by no means dead conscience of ordinary men and women. In France both Catholics and Protestants appear to be aroused at last. In England Roman Catholics and 'orthodox' Jews are stalwart. What appears to be imminent is the paralysing of the resistance of the Church of England and of the Free Churches by the wholly fallacious expedient of acquiescence in moderate use.

The Christian tradition has said, 'Thou shalt not.' And the imminent danger to morality, and the imminent peril of decadence in ill civilized societies, confirm us in believing the Christian tradition to be right. Moreover, the average healthy conscience is still half-secretly with us, even where the practice is reluctantly allowed. [23/24] 'I know the beastly thing is wrong, but what am I to do?' is an expression actually used to the present writer, which he believes to represent the state of a great many consciences. In many individual cases in all classes the resistance of conscience is more strenuous and has been effective. The imminent peril is that those who ought to guide and encourage this best conscience among us should disappoint and desert it. And it is not enough that this resistance should be merely private--a resistance through private advice and the use of the confessional; it must be also a public and open campaign to arouse and to rally the general conscience, and to strengthen the faithful remnant with the assurance that in the long run 'good beats bad, if the fight be only free.'

5. The argument from the 'unwanted babies' in the slums. I must not pass by the argument which, I know, most strongly influences young doctors, during their maternity work in the slums around some of the great hospitals, and many other people--I mean the argument in favour of some method of restricting births; which is derived from the spectacle of innumerable babies born where they are certainly not wanted, and under lamentably defective conditions. Ought not medical science to do all that is possible to enable these poor mothers to restrict their offspring?

Now nothing can excuse a great nation like [24/25] ours which, owing to a very false idea about the unrestricted rights of property, and an undue deference to vested interests, and a most mistaken sense of the relative values of different kinds of expenditure, has so long been content to allow the conditions of housing and other social conditions to remain over so many years what they are in the slums of so many cities and in so many country places. Let every one who cares for the worth or humanity or the honour of his country be a zealous and persistent reformer, and let him shrink from no hardship or unpopularity in pressing upon Parliament and upon municipal authorities and individual owners of house property the need of drastic and persistent action. Above all let all who name the name of Christ be zealous in this cause.

But it is social reconstruction and reform that we should regard as the real remedy--not the prevention of Conception. Those who believe that 'Birth Control' is as wrong in itself as stealing or lying are of course not open to the question of expediency; but I would direct the attention of others to the consideration presented above--that the prevention of conception is declared by its advocates to be full of danger except by one method, and that that method involves recurrent expense and the constant supervision of the doctor, at least at first, if it is to be either safe or effective. Now what we are dealing with at this moment is the argument based on the conditions of life in [25/26] the slums. In those conditions there is least to be expected the carefulness and manipulative skill or the constant recourse to the doctor which the method requires. It would appear that what 'knowledge' the miserably poor may gather would be likely to be grievously misused, and that it is in quite different directions that we must look hopefully for the healing of their misery, and the improvement of their lot.

6. An unnatural practice. The demand of the Christian Religion for self-control.

I have been arguing hitherto against the use of contraception on the ground that if you examine the 'Birth Control' movement in Europe and America in its motives and claims you find it to be fundamentally contrary to the moral standards and requirements of Christianity. I am assuming that we owe permanent allegiance to the moral standard of the, New Testament as to something divinely revealed and of permanent authority. When I was young the agnostics used to denounce Christian dogma, but in the main were strenuous upholders of Christian morality. [So it is, I am thankful to say, with some of our 'Modernists' of to-day.] But this day is passed. Morality and doctrine are equally imperilled to-day. I am prepared at other times and in other places to argue the question of the permanence of Christianity, doctrinal and moral. Here and now I am content to reason [26/27] with those who accept at least Christian morality. I have begged them to look at the motives of the so-called 'Birth Control' movement, and they will conclude that they are anti-Christian; and then to look at its consequences and to recognize that they seem to be destructive of any society which generally adopts them. I have urged that it is impracticable to admit the use of contraceptives under severe restrictions and only within married life or under medical advice without at the same time opening the gates to the flood. I have urged that it is the sacred duty of the Christian Church to declare war against this movement, and to instruct and organize the conscience of its people to refuse and resist it--believing that majorities do not determine moral issues, and that a steadfast minority can be now, as it has been formerly, the effective instrument of God. I have also urged that you cannot separate off the question whether a practice is wrong in itself from the question of its motives and its consequences.

Now, however, I would come back to 'the thing in itself' and justify the Church in calling it 'unnatural' and contrary to the Christian standard. There is no express prohibition of the newly-proposed methods of preventing offspring in the Bible--indeed there could not have been, as they are very modern--but neither is there any express prohibition of suicide. It is the function of the Christian Church to study the principles of Christ and by its authority to 'bind' (prohibit) [27/28] and 'loose' (allow)--to guide those who belong to it by authoritative directions. It has in fact denounced the methods of preventing conception now in question as unnatural and unchristian. Is it justified in giving such directions?

It has been argued again and again that by allowing to married people what is called ' the use of the safe period' it has admitted, up to a certain point, the principle that the sexual act may be used so as, as far as possible, to preclude conception, and that there is no consistency in refusing to sanction the extension of this toleration to the new methods. This is an argument from the less to the greater which we must not admit. The 'safe periods' are; not quite 'safe' in fact. The prospect of conception is not fully excluded. And the method used only avails itself of an apparent fact or law in the reproductive process. The Church has never contended that, besides the 'procreation of children,' the sexual act does not serve other purposes (see above, p. 20, n. 1). No one is proposing to interfere with the ancient liberties. But it does not follow that they be vastly extended any more than the reluctant recognition that there are certain extreme rare circumstances under which a lie may be told (as to a lunatic or a would-be murderer) justifies the extended recognition that a lie is justifiable whenever it is not expedient to speak the truth. Examine animal life from end to end and it appears that obviously the primary function of [28/29] the sexual organs is the propagation of the species. In the non-rational animal world physical nature may be said to supply its own automatic checks. There is no place for self-control. And animals in a state of nature are not 'dissipated' or morbidly sensual. But in man the sexual instinct--which has proved, itself so appallingly dangerous--is committed largely to the governance of the human will. The refusal of the human will to act in submission to the divine will has produced all the devastating calamities of sensuality.

If it be admitted that we have in the Bible the record of a gradual education of man by God, his Father, in the true mariner of living--an education reaching finality in Jesus Christ and finding permanent expression in the New Testament--what do we find? We find the sexual passion respected and honoured, though the vocation of virginity has also its special glory. But the sexual passion is laid under tremendous restraints. It is to find its exercise only within the bond of an indissoluble union of one man and one woman. Fornication is strictly forbidden, with all its accompanying license of speech and thought, and with all its 'unnatural' extensions. Parenthood and fertility are glorified; while the stern claim of self-restraint and sacrifice is still made upon the married state. The man's honour and regard for his wife is to be lifted towards the level of Christ's self-sacrifice for His Church, [Eph. v. 25 ff.] and the [29/30] function of woman in motherhood is taken, in our Lord's lovely words, as the type of painful sacrifice which passes into abiding joy. [S. John xvi. 21.]

If all this represents the true standard, is not the new movement, with its 'new morality,' its contradiction and its declared enemy? Is not the proposal to use our 'science ' in order to enable us at will to separate sexual enjoyment from conception and parentage, and to 'enjoy ourselves' while excluding the accompanying sacrifice and responsibility, most truly and most deeply unnatural? If anything is to be so called, it is surely this. It is as unnatural as the use of our science to provide the instruments of unjust war.

Of course it will be said that the whole of human history is a record of war and unrestrained lust. Alas! it is so. But the saving element in man's history is the courage of the gallant minority who have lifted and kept aloft the standard of peace and of purity and self-control. How tremendous is the claim of Christ for self-control, even when it involves something like spiritual mutilation--the cutting off our right hand and the plucking out our right eye! How penetrating is His assurance that 'self-expression' is indeed to be attained, but attained only by the stern method of 'mortification'--that we can only 'save our souls' or realize our true selves by the sternest repression of our lusts and insolent appetites! How glorious also is the witness of Christian experience all down [30/31] the centuries that the seemingly intolerable burden laid on human self-will and passion can by deliberate conversion of the soul to God, by the absorption of our selfish interests in His kingdom, and the willing acceptance of His Spirit to rule and consecrate our lives, be turned into an 'easy yoke' and a 'light burden'--yes, into a glorious liberty of sonship! 'That man is free,' said Pope Leo the Great, 'whose flesh is controlled by the law of his mind, while his imnd is directed by the government of God.'

Truly the Christian life is not easy to flesh and blood. 'Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be,' to-day as always, who troop down it. But not all--not nearly all. The common assertion that no young men are chaste is, as every one may know, a lie. And the disastrously common idea that 'respectable' people can expect to find in marriage a state which no longer demands of them self-control is of course wholly false. Mortification and self-restraint is a condition of all noble or worthy living. [I am very well aware that current psychology is disposed to emphasize the danger of mere 'inhibition' and to substitute the method of 'sublimation.' Certainly mere inhibition is not the Christian way of victory. But any method of sublimation which does not involve stern inhibition--which does not accept the duty of self-denial or mortification--is very far from being Christian, and is repudiating the teaching of experience on the widest scale.] There is not to-day any claim being laid on husbands and wives which has not [31/32] been laid on them within the Christian Church since its beginning. Why cannot we bear it, as well as our forefathers? In many ways marriage in nominally Christian countries has been disfigured with gross abuses. Let us remove those abuses and cruelties. But every one who believes that Christ is really 'the Way' for humanity must refuse to countenance, either in theory or practice, the truly and fundamentally unnatural, and in their general result licentious, proposals and practices of the falsely-called movement for 'Birth Control.' It is 'the enemy.'

This paper is published under the authority of The League of National Life, but the author alone is responsible for its statements and arguments.

The objects of the League are to combat the theory and practice of Contraception (Birth Prevention); to oppose any form of State or Municipal assistance for the promotion of Contraception; and to uphold the honour and blessing of parenthood.

The address of the League is 168 Victoria Street, London, S.W. 1.

The minimum subscription is 2s. 6d. Subscriptions (the larger the better) are to be sent to the Hon. Treasurer at the above address.



Frederick J. McCann, M.D., F.R.C.S.


The Right Rev. Bishop Gore, D.D.

Lord FitzAlan of Derwent, P.C., G.C.V.O., D.S.O.

The Dowager Countess of Chichester.

The Very Rev. Joseph Hertz, Ph.D. (Chief Rabbi)

Lord Morris of Newfoundland, K.C., P.C., LL.D.

Viscount Wolmer, M.P.

Lady Winefride Elwes

The Rev. Hon. E. Lyttelton, D.D.

F.N. Blundell, Esq., M.P.

Dame Mary Scharlieb, M.D., M.S.

Hon. Secretary

Halliday Sutherland, M.D.

Hon. Treasurer.

Mrs. Halford Hewitt.


Messrs Charles Russell & Co.


Messrs Callingham, Brown & Co.


The National Provincial Bank of England

Project Canterbury