Actress Alyssa Milano ignited social media with a tweet last Friday night calling for women to return to chastity. Although her nonsectarian phrase is “sex-strike,” the outcome is nevertheless the same: chastity. Sex between a woman and man has a risk of pregnancy of course, and “we just cannot risk pregnancy,” she stated. But chastity has been the position of the Catholic Church since its inception.
One of the earliest known documents, written before some New Testament Scriptures, explains that Christians shall not kill, shall not commit adultery, shall not corrupt youth, shall not commit fornication, and shall not kill a child by abortion. It adds, “Neither shall you slay it when born” (Didache 2:2). Adultery and fornication both connote sexual activity outside of marriage.
Stamp out pregnancy at all costs
As Catholics, we understand that sex outside of marriage may create serious, life-changing consequences for the persons involved. Historically, this understanding led to a multitude of programs and attempts to turn persons from being sexually “active” to being chaste until marriage. When those attempts had little success, Sex Education in schools attempted to “teach” not so much the consequences of the sexual union, but how to prevent pregnancy, because, “everybody does it.” Whole industries sprung up around preventing pregnancy, and while they were at it, preventing the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. The interruption of the sexual union became the battle cry. This easily morphed into “individual rights.”
The success of sex education at preventing pregnancy was limited, and society inevitably turned to the ultimate weapon, abortion. “People have the right to use their body for whatever purpose they choose,” they said, and abortion and infanticide is simply an extension of those rights. With the abortion laws intact, legislators and some governors have made laws that effectively promote infanticide; that is, allowing a living baby to die after a botched abortion.
The “insignificant factor” of unborn children being human and the parents’ right to end their lives is expanding to include persons in comas as well as persons with advanced Alzheimer’s (“let them starve to death”). We will see this attitude expand as it becomes more “socially acceptable” to kill a human when maintaining their life is inconvenient.
The doctrine of my happiness above all
Moral Theology class in seminary teaches the theology of “Utilitarianism,” which states that one’s happiness is most important and everything one does should be to effect happiness. In March, 2008, candidate for president, Barack Obama talked about having an unplanned baby as a punishment. He remarked that if his daughters “made a mistake,” he did not want them “punished with a baby.” If an unplanned baby was “punishment,” that would be against the object of Utilitarianism and would have to be removed, making abortion a part of the “final solution” to the punishment of having an unplanned baby.
In 2019, Utilitarianism seems to be the overriding principle of society. Personal happiness dominates the culture, the life of others should not place undue pressure on “me”. There is a scene in the 1991 film, What About Bob, where Bill Murray, Bob, confronts Richard Dreyfuss, the psychologist, who refuses to treat Bob while on vacation. Bob cries, “Gimme, gimme, I need, I need,” until the psychologist gives in. It seems this is the mantra of many people today.
Real life-and-death scenarios
I spoke with an Army Captain who served two tours in Iraq. He had a question regarding a situation of real consequence. During a heavy exchange of fire, American forces came upon an enemy combatant near death. The man was propped against a wall, bleeding profusely, begging to be killed by the Americans. The man was suffering beyond his capacity to endure. It was obvious to the American squad that the combatant would not survive. The man begged to be put out of his misery. The American officer in charge shot the enemy combatant. “What do you think?” My friend asked.
I explained that it was murder. The officer who shot the man was morally wrong for taking a life. I told my friend that suffering is the reality of being human. Suffering is redemptive. Animals, pets, should not suffer. For animals, suffering is never redemptive. This is reserved for humans, those who are created in the image and likeness of God.
In Ireland recently, we had a private tour along the Cliffs of Mohr. Our guide took great pains in describing the birds that nested in the cracks, crevices, ledges of the Cliffs. She described how predatory birds swoop in to kill the chicks. The male birds do everything to ward off the predators. The mother and father birds risk their lives to protect their young. My partner said, “Isn’t that interesting? We humans have no problem killing children in the womb and should they have the misfortune of living after an abortion, summarily let them die. No one fights for them, risks their life for them.” Our guide, a young woman, stared at my partner. No words came. She had nothing to say. In her eyes I saw the reality of her silence.
Will America listen?
The Catechism tells us that, “All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has ‘put on Christ,’ the model of all chastity. All Christ’s faithful are called to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life. At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective life in chastity” (CCC 2348 – cf. Gal. 3: 27).
It would be tremendous if Ms. Milano’s call for chastity would be met with exuberance by thousands across America. She is speaking the language of the culture when she says people cannot “risk pregnancy.” Yet, rather than the attitude that one is “punished” with pregnancy, as our former president suggested, chastity or call-it-what-you-will is the ultimate best practice for saving lives and living the way one wants in this utilitarian world.