The Consequences of Contraception
Eberstadt's lead-up to this final point is both smart and masterful. Each chapter carefully builds a case against sexual liberation, often echoing popular evangelical litanies against non-marital sex. As she critiques secularism and its handmaidens, she stokes the concern of evangelical Christians, and perhaps strokes our egos in the process.
Until, that is, the final chapter, which is undoubtedly an indictment of current Protestant teachings on contraception. In this chapter she considers Pope Paul VI's Humanae Vitae (1968), a prophetic warning against contraception that not only represented historical Christian thinking on the topic, but proved to be devastatingly accurate in its predictions.
Since the publication of Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church has adhered to its reproductive ethics despite the Western ire it has incurred. Protestantism, on the other hand, has not fared so well. For Eberstadt, the 1930 Lambeth Conference, in which the Anglican Church "abandoned its longstanding Christian position on contraception," signified the beginning of a gradual unraveling of a coherent sexual ethic in the Protestant tradition. It was the moment when the Protestant church conceded all grounds for telling Christians what to do with their bodies.
As a result of this fateful decision, Eberstadt is not surprised at the sexual inconsistencies we now see in Protestant churches. Again looking to Anglicanism and its recent decision to ordain practicing homosexuals, Eberstadt believes this development makes perfect sense: "Once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals [by engaging in sterile sex], it would not be long before homosexuals started claiming the rights of heterosexuals."
As Eberstadt sees it, the contraceptive pill has launched us into a new age in which responsibility has been divorced from sex. And while it is easy to point fingers at the secular world for embracing this reproductive technology, Christians are complicit in its hold on our culture. Most Christians do not want to be told what to do with their bodies any more than non-Christians, and the Pill has made that freedom possible.
Eberstadt's final chapter sheds a different kind of light on current evangelical conversations about sex. As often as these discussions are taking place, and as important as it is to affirm sex in marriage, there is a distinctly individualistic flavor to these teachings. While church leaders should encourage marital intimacy in the bedroom, married sex (and the teachings behind it) can still have negative social ramifications. Using contraception is not a private act, nor is it a neutral one. Eberstadt's book is Exhibit A of this reality.
Knowing this, pastors cannot address the widespread sexual brokenness in our culture simply by encouraging married sex. They must also address the ideology and theology behind the brokenness, and contraception is Ground Zero for those discussions.
Although Eberstadt's primary aim is to present the empirical evidence of the sexual revolution's fallout, her research serves an additional purpose. It also presents the empirical evidence for thinking carefully and soberly about embracing contraception. In this day and age, such a suggestion will seem ridiculous to Christians and non-Christians alike, but the data is undeniable. If we want to think seriously and Christianly about sex, then we need to think seriously about contraception.