During a casual conversation a friend of mine asked me, “How come histocompatibility is not better known among Catholics?”
Histo what? I asked.
He answered, “Histocompatibility. Oral contraceptives may be a major cause of problems in marriages.”
Apart from the well-known side-effects of oral contraception such as nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, weight gain, and mood changes, there is another possible effect that is “suggested.” Scientists use the word “suggest” when they think they are on to something but don’t want to commit fully.
My friend pointed me to some literature on the subject and I started to investigate. At least what I could find on the Internet. I am not sure if delving into books on the subject would be beneficial at this stage of my interest. Considering the breadth of the genetics topic, how else does a person get to the essential parts of a question quickly?
What is All of This?
Usually two things have to be in sync in our modern world to make sense of a question within God’s province. The two features of life that are not in conflict, but have been working their way into the human mind as a conflict for about three hundred years or so. They are science and religion. For us, it is of course, science and Catholicism.
I started with the science and Sheril Kirshenbbaum from the University of Texas who, as her university says, “works to enhance public understanding of science and energy issues.” A broad description, but she has specific interests and has written a book on kissing called, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us. The key points about kissing are explained in her Washington Post article here. We already know why kissing is fun and most of us don’t care about the scientific explanation, but one important point she mentioned stood out for me. She wrote:
Scientists suspect that when a couple carry distinctly different genetics for fighting disease, their children are likely to benefit by having a strong immune system. We may not exactly be thinking about parenthood when we connect with someone at the lips, but kissing provides clues to help us decide whether to take a relationship further.
In another article she says, “Evolutionary psychologists at The State University of New York at Albany recently reported that 59% of men and 66% of women say that they have ended a budding relationship because of a bad kiss.”
The Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment
Her article pointed me to a 1995 Swiss study on the “region of DNA known as the major histocompatibility complex or MHC.” In this study, famously called the Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment, four biologists summarized the result of young women smelling the T-shirts worn for two nights by young men. After that, an “odour assessment” was done. Very subjective, but how else are you going to examine the effect of smell on another person without asking?
A partial conclusion of this study explains:
Each male student wore a T-shirt for two consecutive nights. The next day, each female student was asked to rate the odours of six T-shirts. They scored male body odours as more pleasant when they differed from the men in their MHC than when they were more similar. This difference in odour assessment was reversed when the women rating the odours were taking oral contraceptives. Furthermore, the odours of MHC-dissimilar men remind the test women more often of their own actual or former mates than do the odours of MHC-similar men. This suggests that the MHC or linked genes influence human mate choice today. (emphasis mine)
A reversal. The complete opposite!
Sheril Kirshenbbaum wrote in Scientific American magazine:
Pairing off with a male who has a different set of genes for immunity can lead to children that will have a higher level of genetic diversity, making them healthier and more likely to survive. (emphasis mine)
Now For the Catholicism… and Protestantism
Even though the word genetics was coined back in 1905, the writer in 1968 of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI, was not a geneticist who decided to go into popery. He was a priest from about the age of 22 and became a canon law expert who spent his life in church administration. He was never a parish priest. His everyday working life was not with couples seeking marriage direction. However, if you will recall from even the most rudimentary catechesis, we were promised that the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, would guide the church (John 14:26). Guiding the church, of course, means ultimately guiding mankind, as the Pope confirmed in Humanae Vitae when he spoke of “…the Church, Mother and Teacher of all peoples.”
Despite early Protestants favoring having children, and the near-“barefoot and pregnant” view of women that Martin Luther held, Protestants made an official 180 turn on the subject of babies at the Anglican Church’s 1930 Lambeth Conference. Then Anglican Bishop of Oxford, Charles Gore, wrote in protest to the newly adopted resolution of the conference that he said gave, “a restricted sanction to the use of preventives of conception.” He answered this change to church law by quoting the absolute opposition to this position just 10 years before at the 1920 conference:
The Conference… regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race.
The Wisdom of Pope Paul VI
In 1968 the Human Genome Project had 2 decades to wait before it would begin and another 25 years after that to complete. Because of that project, we in 2016 have a better understanding of how God has designed our bodies. Having the advantage of this knowledge before the events of Genesis 1, the Holy Spirit went about guiding our Church throughout history, teaching us and using the multiplicity of the phrase, “Be fruitful and multiply”. God had already provided the Natural Law which we follow and which promotes human multiplication. The study of the human genome (every gene in a human body) has given us an understanding of the incredible almost invisible control mechanism that God created. A purposeful guidance system for the physical progression of a life from conception to natural death in order to multiply as he designed.
By 1968, however, Protestant churches had almost entirely abandoned their past teaching on contraception. I can attest to the fact that American men and women on the whole had adopted an attitude of complete indifference to contraception. It was considered to be just a simple and logical method of controlling the unwanted results of pleasure. Since 1960, “The Pill” had been available, and in 1969 we had conquered the moon. God was dead, technology and man (and later woman) replaced him in the mind of society. But now, after these many years, we read of science “suggesting” that contraception has just the opposite effect when implementing a human aspect of mating.
In the encyclical letter on the regulation of birth Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI wrote:
No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation.
In carrying out this mandate, the Church has always issued appropriate documents on the nature of marriage, the correct use of conjugal rights, and the duties of spouses. These documents have been more copious in recent times.
His contribution was in continuing the faithful teaching, supporting that teaching, and emphasizing that teaching of his predecessors. As he said, “consciousness of the same responsibility” led him to this encyclical. His unique contribution was in exerting the power of his office to interpret and provide direction for a major issue of the day while being very aware of the rebellion of that time. Open rebellion, even within the Church.
He dealt with the specific as to the effects of contraception writing in paragraph 17, “Consequences of Artificial Methods”:
Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
He reiterated Church teaching on “God’s Loving Design,” “Married Love,” and “Responsible Parenthood,” using understanding accumulated by mankind to that point in history. He said about moral law, both natural and evangelical, “Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter.”
So, What About the Smelly T-Shirts?
This is just one unique scientific reminder of the truths given to us by the Church even without verification at the time by the scientific method. Those of us that have come to regret the direction our country has taken, and by extension the world, point out the disintegration of the family as the largest loss. The recent misuse of judicial power to further destroy marriage by allowing same-sex persons to apply for something that has in reality reduced a sacred covenant, the marriage vow to God, to a civil contract—a contract with no real purpose except to try and mimic a once great purpose. The ultimate contraception is two or more persons of the same sex playing with their bodies for mutual satisfaction, like children who have discovered pleasant sensations. It is the ultimate separation of procreation from the sex act. Similar to a feeding tube inserted into the stomach wall by a doctor to provide nutrition, then never giving the nutrition through that tube. Defeating a God-given purpose. Even with proper use, that feeding tube substitute will never be recognized as eating—because we know the difference through nature.
The poet W.B. Yeats wrote The Second Coming in 1919 after the first massive human slaughter of the new century. He wrote in part:
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction,
While the worst are full of passionate intensity.
Without accepting the truths our Church teaches, using great men like Pope Paul VI, our future is in question. We know that we will be judged, and the best and worst of us has been defined. Where do you stand on contraception?