An Immorality Tale: Lying for Birth Control, or When Dogma Trumps Compassion, Morals Break Down (and even yoga pants aren’t safe)

The anti-birth control faction, which as far as I can tell is mostly made up of people who don’t have sex, is worried their conscience will be stained by having their organization or business paying for health insurance that covers one of the most commonly prescribed pills in the world (isn’t anybody’s conscience stained by all the unnecessary Percocet being dolled out?).  Well, what about the conscience of people like my wife and I who were forced to lie to get birth control?  Because the truth is, in one of those great ironic twists, Catholic institutions can prescribe birth control for health reasons.  That’s how my wife and I got it—we were told to lie by our doctor.  It may seem like splitting hairs, but it is a good example of how rigid morality laws can cause immorality. (Kind of like the whole preacher’s daughter thing).

First, let me admit that my wife and I are both baptized and confirmed Catholics, though if you read my blog you know I’m only 30% Catholic, therefore exempt from 70% of the dogma. I have to be.  I live in a city where the Archdiocese’s has taken a position against Yoga.  Come on.  Yoga?  What’s next?  Yoga pants?  That would ruin my motivation for taking the kids to the children’s museum.  God bless the yoga pants epidemic.  Still, the 30% of me that’s Catholic takes my kids to church when they need some good old ass-kicking, pew-sitting religion.  Otherwise, we’re more like Unitarians with a Buddhist problem.  I have a deep respect for the church, especially its mystical streak, its deep commitment to the poor and disenfranchised, and its strong emphasis on eating fried fish and drinking beer.  But I, like many Catholics, don’t agree with the church’s teaching on birth control (there’s a fight over the exact statistic, but valid data suggests that most Catholics have used some form of birth control).  I never even considered agreeing with it because it’s stupid.   Many other thoughtful, well-respected Catholics (see James Carroll’s great book, Practicing Catholic) think it’s stupid too (they say it nicer, though).  I’m a public high school teacher for St. Pete’s sake—I’m all for birth control.  I’ve been trying to sneak large doses of it into the taco bar for years.

But back to my back story about how the church forced me to lie:  when my wife and I first married and moved to Chicago, we ended up, without choosing, getting our healthcare under the umbrella of a Catholic hospital.  This is not strange.  One in six Americans end up at a Catholic hospital every year.  We did not seek it out.  We were public school teachers and this was where our benefits landed us.  Then one day my wife heads over to the clinic to get birth control because we were too young and dumb to have kids (and smart enough to know it).  At the time we had this wisecracking Polish doctor (I’ll never forget the time she told me it was okay to smoke, as long as I kept it to one or two a day—that’s some good doc’s advice).  You could tell this woman anything, but when my wife asked for the pill things got quiet.  The doctor shuffled on her feet, smirked, and informed us that she worked for a Catholic organization and therefore could not give us birth control.  What?  This is a clinic, not a church, we thought.  She smiled slyly and added, “But I can write you a prescription, if you have a health condition that necessitates birth control.”  Just don’t be using it to have sex, she added using her Polish mind tricks.

Suddenly my wife had a spontaneous health condition.

In other words, we lied, got the pill, went home, and had sex (all of which are sins).

Now I have all that on my soul.

Actually, I never gave this more than a passing thought until the blowup over Obama’s contraception mandate.  It gave me pause when I read about Catholics (the ones who don’t have sex) who were up in arms over a directive that would require Catholic organizations to cover birth control.  I really had to dig deep to figure out what the problem was.  Come on, nobody is forcing anybody to take birth control.  But since a majority of couples use it, why not make it available.  I imagine it saves the country, the world, and the universe billions of dollars to not have all these extra babies running around eating our food and using our resources.  Plus, it always seems really ironic to me that the people who dislike abortion the most won’t give others the necessary medicine that has been proven to cure the “condition” that most often leads to an abortion—that is, getting knocked up.

It’s very confusing to my already wavering moral compass.  But as always, I fall back on compassion as the gold standard of religion.  What would be the compassionate thing to do?  Make couples lie and cheat and beg in order to not have lots of babies nobody wants and the world doesn’t have room for?

Thankfully, many Catholics have come out in support of Obama’s measure, if at least to point out that the US Bishops have made it clear in the past that Catholics (those who worry about it) do not have to feel morally compromised over such government mandates, just as they don’t have to feel compromised over the fact their tax dollars go towards all the birth control and abortions (and nuclear bombs) on our countless army bases.  It’s just part of this crazy, collective life we live.  That’s why we are allowed individual choices.  That’s why, when all else fails, we should resort to compassion over dogma.

If we really want to quibble over government directives that make me feel morally compromised—let’s talk about the defense budget:  30% of my tax dollars go towards wars I don’t agree with.

Once again, politics have trumped compassion—and it is the supposed “religious” who are coming up short in the compassion department.  As long as spirituality is associated with hard lines and rigid ideology, religions will continue to isolate themselves from the mainstream world.  Compassion is the unifying force of spiritual living—the core tenet of all faiths.  It’s what should be uniting us as people of conscience.  Rigidity and severity are the ways of death.  That’s why babies are so flexible and corpses are so stiff.  See, I like babies.  My wife and I have had three now, and not because we can’t seem to get that rhythm method down–but because we chose to.

The fear in the eyes of those religious who think they are losing ground to the modern world reminds me of the kind of fear that would lead a group of people to kill someone for challenging the status quo—kind of like what happened 2000 years ago.  Just saying.

Give Up and Die…you’ll be glad you did.

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