In my pastoral and teaching duties of late I've noticed the increasing emergence of a new (or perhaps very very old) idea within the Catholic sphere. It is the idea that two wrongs can make a right, at least within the bounds of human sexuality.
Faithful Catholics know what the Church teaches about sex outside of marriage: it is a sin. Catholics are also aware that the Church has a teaching regarding the use of artificial contraception: that this kind of direct "closing off" of the possibility of conception is not part of God's plan either.
But curiously, when we put these two things together, I'm noticing an increasing number of Catholics saying that somehow this is morally good. Catholic teenagers patting themselves on the back for having bought condoms before their first sexual experience, Catholic activists who are in favour of distributing condoms in Africa, Catholic cohabitating couples who see the use of contraception as the most "responsible choice" within their sex lives: all these groups share one thing in common, in that they believe that the use of contraception, *in their case*, is somehow a sign of moral responsibility.
There is, of course, a simpler solution: just don't have sex.
The use of contraception in these cases creates a double moral problem. First, there is the problem it shares with the use of artificial contraception within marriage, in that the use of artificial means of birth regulation seems to create a subtle shift in the sexual attitudes of the couple, creating a niche where "sexual selfishness" can fester. But in addition to this, and much more insidious, is the idea that, *because the couple is not married in these cases*, the use of contraception actually is morally good. The moral evaluation of the use of artificial contraception within marriage hinges on the question "Is this right or wrong?" But the moral evaluation of the use of artificial contraception outside of marriage turns not only on the narrow question of the morality of artificial contraception in itself, but also on a broader question on whether one moral evil can reduce the amount of evil possessed by another moral evil. In other words, whether two wrongs can make a right (or at least make it less wrong). The world seems to think they can; the Church says they can't. Hence, (some) people berate the Church, and (some) Catholics just go along with "the world".
What we need to do is regain God's perspective on the question of sexual union and conception.
First of all, we need to realise that God loves life. The Bible describes Him as the "living God", and the book of Genesis shows that the thing that animated the first man was the "breath of God in his nostrils". For God to create life is for God to share, in an initial way, some of his own essence. And since God's goal is to see Love abound all the more in the world, Love being the defining characteristic of his essence, God simply loves life and loves to give life. The fact that there are forms of life that can live in the most hostile of environments is just one small example of this; the greatest example, of course, is the increasing of the gift of human life.
Secondly, we need to realise that the world is governed by God's loving providence. We are called to participate in that providence, and Jesus taught his disciples to do so with great trust. There is a balance that must therefore be maintained: we are not to switch off our brains and act recklessly, but at the same time we are not to try and usurp the guiding hand of God's providence, either. How do we know when we are living the correct balance? When we are living the commandments of God, whether they are those written in the Bible, or simply those written in the pattern of human nature (called the natural law). The problem with the "two wrongs make a right" approach for contraception is that it believes that the middle can be achieved by living both extremes simultaneously: we act recklessly with our sexuality, and we try and balance it by acting outside the bounds of nature. It is true that two evenly balanced teams in a tug of war will prevent any movement, but the system is unstable: sooner or later one end or the other will slip, and you get dragged through the mud. The only real peace of soul comes from occupying the proper moral centre in the first place.
Finally, we need to understand that sexual union is one of the most privileged ways human beings have to participate in God's plan of providence. Couples do not get pregnant every time they have sex, but they need to ask themselves if they are open to the "God who delights in giving life" when they do live such a union. If not, something is not right, and we are no longer in that moral centre. We need to understand that whenever a new life starts, or when it does not, it is never an accident in God's providential plan.
To put this in the simplest possible terms, let me offer a parable:
Whenever a couple is having sexual relations, a bell rings in heaven. God hears that bell, looks down, and says "Great! People are enjoying the activity that I created which allows them to participate in the gift of new life. Now all I have to do is decide if I want to respond to their invitation to give life or not."
Now sometimes God notices something is amiss.
In the case of an infertile couple, God also asks himself, "Should I perform a miracle as well in this case? I do love life, but I also want to respect the laws of the creation that I have created." So often no conception takes place, but let's not forget that the Bible is full of stories of conceptions that took place despite years of infertility — and that each time, it was seen as a tremendous "extra blessing".
In the case of fornication, God looks down and gives Himself something else to consider: "Hmmm....I don't like what's happening here. This is against my divine plan. What can I do to redeem this situation? I know! I'll get them pregnant! That way, my glorious gift of Life, which is always good, will be just another way of demonstrating how my glorious power-as-Love is able to draw good out of any evil." So couples who get pregnant outside of wedlock need to know that the child is not a curse, but a blessing: such a child is a special sign of hope from God, that showcases how much He continues to love you despite any sin we might commit.
The above consideration, I might add, also applies to cases that are even more perverse: adultery, prostitution, orgies, and even rape, can be used by God to give the gift of life. In each case, God is simply trying to offer the greatest gift he can, the gift of new life, to try and redeem the situation.
Regarding the use of artificial contraception, what is God's attitude? Once again, God hears the "invitation to conception" bell in Heaven, the bell that rings when a couple is having sex, and looks down to evaluate what He should do. He then remarks, "This is odd. The couple is performing the act by which they invite me to give life, and yet they are also using something meant to try and prevent that life. Why are they being so contradictory? It seems hypocritical." But far from being sad, God then begins to laugh. "In my power, I've made old women get pregnant, I've made infertile couples get pregnant, I've even made a virgin become pregnant. Do these people honestly think a bit of rubber or a few hormones are capable of foiling my will?" Still chuckling to himself, God then says "Well, I still want to respect the rules of my creation, and these methods do have their physical and chemical properties. Perhaps I'll hold off on the gift of life. But on the other hand, it wouldn't take much to rupture that condom, or to cause a break-through ovulation — it's just a case of 'nature finding a way', hardly even a miracle. And I do so want to draw something good out of something bad."
All these examples serve to illustrate a final consideration of God's attitude, i.e. his attitude towards abortion. God is, of course, tremendously pleased when the couple having relations is one that is doing so as an act of intersubjective unity, because in such cases not only is God cooperating with that act, they are opening themselves up to become more like God: they not only (possibly) receive the gift of physical life, but also (certainly) the gift of divine life and holiness. There is great joy in Heaven in such moments. But God is also pleased with himself when he gives life in morally imperfect situations, because he sees it as a way of showcasing the beautiful power of creation in which he has invited humans to share, as well as demonstrating the hope-giving power of his providence to bring Good out of any Evil. To be blunt, when pregnancy happens, God is happy in some way. To then terminate that life — even in cases of rape or other terrible moral evil — is in some way to tell God, "We don't trust you. We don't want your gift of life. We would rather increase the Evil present by killing another human being, than to accept that Good might come from the new gift of life." What can God's reaction be? If someone were to treat a gift we gave them in such a way, a gift that was tremendously precious to us, we'd be angry: so we should not be surprised that we attribute the emotion of "wrath" to God in such cases. Still, though, I have a feeling that behind any possible anger, God becomes tremendously sad. It is like a parent who sees his or her children doing something wrong: sadness overwhelms the heart, and a great disappointment. I suspect God's wrath is reserved for those whose rejection of His grace is total and with full knowledge and consent; for the rest, He sheds his tears. And happily, those tears can wash away our sins, if only we say we are sorry and pledge our lives to do better.
And so, to all the teenagers out there who are "doing it" but absolutely don't want to get pregnant; to all the young adults who are just "having a good time" without a sense of commitment; to all the cohabitating couples who don't want a child because they feel it does not yet fit within the bounds of their desired lifestyle: DO NOT BE SURPRISED IF GOD DELIGHTFULLY CREATES LIFE AND YOU GET PREGNANT ANYWAY. He desperately wants to bless you as his beloved children, even if the way you are living is contrary to his divine plan. And he may just do that, the very next time you ring that bell in Heaven.