Saturday, January 31, 2004

Sunday Thought: Malcolm Muggeridge on Humanae Vitae

I find myself in a way in a curious position. After all, I'm not a Catholic. I haven't that great satisfaction that presumably most of you have. At the same time I have a great love for the Catholic Church, and I've had from the beginning a feeling stronger than I can convey to you that this document, Humanae Vitae, which has been so savagely criticized, sometimes by members of your church, is of tremendous and fundamental importance, and that it will stand in history as tremendously important...

It happens, ten years ago, that I found myself in the position of introducing a discussion on Humanae Vitae in a BBC television program on a Sunday evening. And I can remember it very vividly. The people who are assembled for these discussions or panels on the BBC fall, usually, into various categories which are invariable: you generally have a sociologist from Leeds; you also have a life-purist usually with a mustache; you also have a knockabout clergyman of no particular denomination and enormous muttonchop whiskers; and you have, I regret to say, also, usually, a rather dubious father, which we had on this occasion, when I really very much wanted to have someone who was a passionate supporter of Humanae Vitae. However, I did have someone...Dr. Colin Clark, who has so marvelously and effectively dealt with what I consider to be one of the great con tricks in this whole controversy of contraception and related matters: the population explosion...

Now, of course, when Humanae Vitae was published to the world and was set upon by all the pundits of the media, it was attacked as being a failure to sympathize with the difficulties of young people getting married. That was the basis on which the attack was mounted. But it was perfectly obvious...with which the coming of Humanae Vitae was celebrated by the BBC - it was mentioned then that contraception was something that would not just stop with limiting families. That in fact, it would lead inevitably, as night follows day, to abortion and then to euthanasia. And I remember that the panel jeered when I said particularly the last, euthanasia. But it was quite obvious that this would be so. That if you once accepted the idea that erotic satisfaction was itself a justification, then you had to accept also the idea that if erotic satisfaction led to pregnancy, then the person concerned was entitled to have the pregnancy stopped. And, of course, we had these abortion bills that proliferated through the whole Western world. In England, we have already destroyed more babies than lives were lost in the first World War. Through virtually the whole Western world there now exists abortion on demand. The result has been an enormous increase in the misery and unhappiness of individual human beings and again, the enormous weakening of this Christian family.

I should mention to you that the point has been reached in England where a bishop has actually produced a special prayer to be used on the occasion of an abortion. You know, one of the great difficulties in being editor of Punch was something that I hadn't envisaged when I took the job on. And that is that whenever you tried to be funny about somebody, you would invariably find that something they actually did was funnier than anything you could possibly think of. I really don't know how you could get a better example of it than a bishop solemnly setting to work to produce a measured prayer on the occasion of murdering a baby. But that is actually what has happened.


From his address to a symposium held in San Francisco in July, 1978, marking the 10th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. Published by the National Committee of Catholic Laymen, © 1979. Maybe more of this next week.
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Comments:

obviously written before his conversion - a great piece! where do you find this stuff?
Posted by alicia email at December 7, 2003 11:25 AM

I'm older than you. I have not yet begun to dig through all the old stuff in my possession.
Posted by William Luse email at December 7, 2003 06:17 PM

How can you be older than me? my oldest child turns 29 next monday.
Posted by alicia email at December 10, 2003 02:23 PM

Ladies first.
Posted by William Luse email at December 10, 2003 04:16 PM

I'll be 49 on January 12,2004.
Posted by alicia email at December 10, 2003 05:33 PM

You women are so trusting. "Ladies first" didn't mean that the gentleman would keep his end of the bargain.
Posted by William Luse email at December 10, 2003 07:09 PM

That's low, man. Funny, but low.
Posted by Joe Marier email at December 10, 2003 10:56 PM
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Jan. 17, 2004

More Mugg on Humanae Vitae

Now, tonight I find myself in the position of being responsible for what is called the "keynote address..." And a rather interesting and, indeed, uplifting thought struck me, that of course I couldn't hope to deliver a keynote address on this particular subject because the keynote address had already been delivered 2,000 years ago.

In other words, this matter which, as I've said, is of such tremendous importance, is an integral part of the revelation that came into the world in the Holy Land, that stupendous drama which has played such a fantastic role in the story of 2,000 years of Christendom: the birth, the life, the ministry, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ as recounted in the Gospels. That was the keynote address for the matter before us this evening.

And after all, that keynote address, having been given to the world in those marvelous words of the fourth Gospel that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; that Word, that keynote address for all the centuries of our Western civilization, was itself carried by the Apostle Paul to a Roman world which was as bored, as derelict, as spent, as our civilization often seems to day. Carried to it, to animate it, to bring back the creativity which had been lost, to fill the world with great expressions in music, in architecture, in literature, in every sort of way, of this great new revelation.

Now why do I think that this was veritably our keynote address? Because, in that revelation, an integral part of that revelation - also something that was wonderfully novel and fresh to a tired and jaded world - was the sacramental notion. So that out of, for instance, the simple need of men to eat and drink came the Blessed Sacraments; and similarly, out of the creativity in men, their animal creativity, came the sacrament of love; the sacrament of love which created the Christian notion of family, of the marriage which would last, which would be something stable and wonderful in our society, out of which it came. And which has endured through all those centuries until now when we find it under attack. In my opinion, what has brought about, in the first case, this great weakening of the marvelous sacrament of reproduction, has been precisely what Humanae Vitae attacks and disallows. The procedures whereby eroticism, by its condition which is lasting love, becomes relegated to be a mere excitement in itself. And thereby are undermined not just relations between this man and that woman, but the whole shape and beauty and profundity of our Christian life.

Humanae Vitae recognized this and asked of Catholics what many of them were unable to accord, that they should not fall into this error, that they should eschew this dangerous procedure which was now being made available in terms at once infinitely simple, but also infinitely more dangerous. Namely, the birth pill...What I want to say tonight, as a non-Catholic, as an aspiring Christian, as someone who, as an old journalist, has watched this process of deterioration in our whole way of life - what I want to say is that in that encyclical the finger is pointed on the point that really matters. Namely, that through human procreation the great creativity of men and women comes into play, and that to interfere with this creativity, to seek to relate it merely to pleasure, is to go back into pre-Christian times and ultimately to destroy the civilization that Christianity has brought about.

That is what I want to testify to...If there is one thing I feel absolutely certain about, it is that. One thing I know will appear in social histories in the future is that the dissolution of our way of life, our Christian way of life and all that it has meant to the world, relates directly to the matter that is raised in Humanae Vitae . The journalists, the media, write and hold forth about the various elements in the crisis of the Western world today: about inflation, about over-population, about impending energy shortages, about detente, about hundreds of things. But they overlook what your church has not overlooked, this basic cause: the distortion and abuse of what should be the essential creativity of men and women, enriching their lives as it has and does enrich people's lives - and when they are as old as I am, enriches them particularly beautifully, when they see as they depart from this world their grandchildren beginning the process of living which they are ending. There is no beauty, there is no joy, there is no compensation that anything could offer in the way of leisure, of so-called freedom from domestic duties, which could possibly compensate for one-thousandth part of the joy that an old man feels when he sees this beautiful thing: life beginning again as his ends, in those children that have come into the world through his love and through a marriage which has lasted through 50 and more years. I assure you that what I say to you is true, and when you are that age there is nothing that this world can offer in the way of success, in the way of adventure, in the way of honors, in the way of variety, in the way of so-called freedom, which could come within a hundredth part of measuring up to that wonderful sense of having been used as an instrument, not in the achievement of some stupid kind of personal erotic excitement, but in the realization of this wonderful thing - human procreation.

---by Malcolm Muggeridge, from remarks delivered in 1979 to a symposium sponsored by the St. Ignatius Institute at the University of San Francisco, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., director. Han Urs von Balthasar was also present. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a scheduled participant, but unable to attend. A book by Muggeridge about her was about to be published by Harper and Row. It's title: Something Beautiful for God.
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Jan 25, 2004

More Mugg on Humanae Vitae

Now we move on to the next stage in this dreadful story. And it's all this that is implicit in the encyclical we're talking about. If it is the case that the only consideration that arises is the physical well-being of individual people, then what conceivable justification is there for maintaining at great expense and difficulty the people who are mentally handicapped, the senile old. I myself have long ago moved into what I call the "N.T.B.R. belt." And the reason I call it that is because I read about how a journalist who had managed to make his way into a hospital ward had found that all the patients in the ward who were over 65 had "N.T.B.R." on their medical cards. And when he pressed them to tell him what these initials stood for, he was told "Not to be resuscitated."

Well, I've been in that belt for some ten years, so I know that as sure as I can possibly persuade you to believe, this is what is going to happen: governments will find it impossible to resist the temptation with the increasing practice of euthanasia, though it is not yet officially legal, except in certain circumstances I believe, for instance, in this state of California. The temptation will be to deliver themselves from this burden of looking after the sick and imbecile people or senile people, by the simple expedient of killing them off. Now this, in fact, is what the Nazis did. And they did it not, as is commonly suggested, through slaughter camps and things like that, but by a perfectly coherent decree with perfectly clear conditions. And, in fact, it is true that the delay in creating public pressure for euthanasia has been due to the fact that it was one of the war crimes cited at Nuremburg. So, for the Guiness Book of Records, you can submit this: that it takes just about 30 years in our humane society to transform a war crime into an act of compassion. That is exactly what happened.

So you see, the thought, the prayer, the awareness of reality behind Humanae Vitae has, alas, been amply born out precisely by these things that have been happening. I feel that Western man has come to a sort of parting of the ways (and that as time goes on you who are much younger will realize this), in which these two ways of looking at our human society will be side by side, and it will necessary to choose one or the other. On the one hand, the view of mankind which has all through the centuries of Christendom been accepted in one form or another by Western people: that we are a family; that mankind is a family with God who is the father. In a family, you don't throw out the specimens that are not up to scratch. In a family you recognize that some will be intelligent and some will be stupid, some will be beautiful and some will be ugly. But what unites the family is the fatherhood of God.

© 1979, by Malcolm Muggeridge
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Jan. 31, 2004

Last of Mugg on Humanae Vitae

...Of course, I can see, as anyone must who looks at what's going on in the world, the terrible dangers. Pascal puts it very well, you know. He said that when men try to live without God - which is what, in fact, is happening in the Western world now... - there are two inevitable consequences: either they suppose that they are gods themselves and go mad, or they relapse into mere animality. And of course, what Pascal didn't see is that even to say they relapse into animality is a kind of gloss on what truly happens. It is something much worse than animality. It's not losing the sacramental idea of carnality, of eating, in order to have the mere animal idea, but it is moving from the sacramental notion to the really sick notion of treating something that is by its nature related to this human creativity as itself a pleasure, and a pleasure that we should demand to have.

Now I don't want you to think that in pointing that out I'm merely indulging in pessismism. Because it is not so. It is not possible to love Christ and to love the Christian faith and to see what it has done for Western man in the last 2,000 years without feeling full of hope and joy. Not possible. Of course it is possible that the particular civilization that we belong to can collapse, as others have. Of course it is possible that what is called Christendom can come to an end. But Christ can't come to an end. And when we look around, even in this somber world of today, we have to notice one enormously hopeful thing. And that is, that the efforts to create this world without God, whether through the means of shaping men and controlling men and molding men into a particular sort of human being, as the Communists have sought to do, or by the mere acceptance of libertinism, of self-indulgence, as Western people have sought to do, in both cases, have proved to be a colossal failure...And that out of the very failure of our efforts in the West to escape from the reality of God by the absurdities of affluence, we might expect men to recover their sense of what is real and to escape from a world of fantasy.
You know, it is a funny thing. When you are old there is something that happens that I find very delightful. You often wake up about half past two or three in the morning when the world is very quiet and, in a way, very beautiful. And you feel half in and half out of your body. As though it is really a toss-up whether you back into that battered old carcass that you can actually see between the sheets, or make off to where you see in the sky, as it were, like the glow of a distant city, what I can only describe as Augustine's City of God. It is a strange thing, but you are aware of these two things: of the old battered carcass and your life in it and this wonderful making off. And at that moment, in that sort of limbo between those two things you have an extraordinarily clear perception of life and everything. And what you realize with a certainty and a sharpness that I can't convey to you is, first of all, how extraordinarily beautiful the world is; how wonderful is the privilege of being allowed to live in it, as part of this human experience; of how beautiful the shapes and sounds and colors of the world are; of how beautiful is human love and human work, and all the joys of being a man or a woman in the world. And at the same time, with that, a certainty past any word that I could pass to you, that as a man, a creature, an infinitesimal part of God's creation, you participate in God's purposes for his creation. And that whatever may happen, whatever men may do or not do, whatever crazy projects they may have and lend themselves to, those purposes of God are loving and not hating. Are creative and not destructive. Are universal and not particular. And in that awareness, great comfort and great joy.

© 1979 by Malcolm Muggeridge





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