On Monday it is estimated that the world population will top 7 billion for the 1st time in history, a ridiculously high number that calls into question the sustainability of that many people on the planet already groaning under the weight of human life. This population boom has in many ways come from a good place: maternal mortality rates are down in many countries, as our infant mortality rate and stillbirths, due to the improved medical knowledge and care that is saving lives. The eradication of diseases such as smallpox and the increased availability of drugs such as antibiotics have also helped prolong the lives of adults and children.
As late as the 19th century in England, women could expect to lose up to half of their children, and many mothers did not live to see their children grow up. So though much of the increased population is due to a positive change in mortality rate, people are still having as many children as they once did. Sometimes this is through choice, some of the time it's because they cannot afford contraception or it is unavailable, but often it is because their culture or their faith forbids them to use it. Through the ages those who have made very reasonable suggestions that contraception be used to control population rates, have been imprisoned, have lost their jobs, been socially ostracised and even killed just for suggesting that perhaps it might be a good idea to not have children the world which cannot be fed and cared for properly.
The church has over the years been responsible for cruelty, war, hypocrisy and basically killing anyone who disagrees with them. But I think in terms of effect the single most destructive and irresponsible thing that the Catholic Church has done is to impose a ban on contraception for its subjects. It is in no small part responsible for the growth in human population, not to mention putting mothers lives at risk, and increasing poverty by forcing families to have more children than they are able to provide for properly. If a mother and father have 2 or 3 children, they may be able to afford food, and education for them, enabling them to pull themselves out of poverty. But once the family has 5 or 6 or even more children, this becomes impossible. The horrific conditions of children who lived in urban areas in the Industrial Revolution, were in large part due to their parents having more children than they could afford to look after. And so the Catholic Church (and many other churches to) force children into poverty and being uneducated.It is perhaps cynical to think that actually that is what they want, for poor and badly educated people are much easier to control. But the consequences are the same.
The horrifying thing though is when you start to look at the reasons for the Catholic Church, (and then the Church of England subsequent to that) had for banning contraception. Part of it was to do with the concept that sexual intercourse should only be for the purposes of producing children, and so having it in any enjoyable context was unnatural and sinful. This of course doesn't make sense because the Catholic Church also allows natural birth control, perhaps this allows them to hedge their bets in a sort of “well, we're not actually doing anything to prevent conception, we are just organising it to allow the least likeliness of it happening" way.One cannot reason with the concept of sexual enjoyment for only pleasure is sinful.
But the other reason for it was based on some very dodgy biological knowledge. Up until that time it was believed that life came entirely from the man, and women were seen as more like living incubators, not the initiators of life itself. For a long time it was believed that men's sperm contained tiny individual human beings, which then grew inside the womb, but were from conception already formed, much like Thumbelina. This was an ancient idea, which also led to Catholic and Jewish leaders banning anal sex and masturbation as it was seen as the loss of life. I pity the young growing men in centuries past who have woken up after a pleasant night's dream to find they had committed mass genocide.
Even the discovery under the microscope of sperm existing in seminal fluid and not looking at all like miniature people men were still seen as the creators of life. In fact the myth was so strong that many scientists said that under the microscope the sperm had arms and legs! It wasn't until the 1840s that a German scientist named Bischoff discovered that a woman released a monthly egg and had some part in procreation. And this meant that there was absolutely no distinction between abortion, infanticide and contraception, because their lack of understanding meant that they actually believe them the same thing. The fact that they laboured under such misconception that so many thousands of years would be funny if it wasn't still causing misery, pain to families, denying women the right to control what enters their body, and putting a strain on the planet by increasing its population. It makes me want to, as Bill Bailey once said, “to lunge wildly at the Pope", or at least wish very hard but St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine and the Pope himself come back reincarnated as one of the women their irresponsible morality has forced to give birth. Or perhaps come back as a cow and learn the joys of having suction attached to your udders. Either a fine with me.