Thursday, September 8, 2011

Great Catholic Writers

Following Sunday Mass in a Dublin church last week, the entire stock of a new edition of The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc was sold out.  The book was chosen as the ‘Book of the Month’, and further copies will no doubt be made available for those who were disappointed in not getting a copy.   
This set me thinking about the paucity of intellectual Catholic writers today, and it led me to seeking out what another great English Catholic writer had to say about a subject not generally associated with him – the subject of ‘birth control’.  In his essay on Babies and Distributism [1935] here is some of what G.K. Chesterton wrote:

‘ … I do not feel any contempt for an atheist, who is often a man limited and constrained by his own logic to a very sad simplification.  I do not feel any contempt for a Bolshevist, who is a man driven to the same negative simplification by a revolt against very positive wrongs.  But there is one type of person for whom I feel what I can only call contempt.  And that is the popular propagandist of what he or she absurdly describes as Birth-Control.  I despise Birth-Control first because it is a weak and wobbly and cowardly word.  It is also an entirely meaningless word; and is used so as to curry favour even with those who would at first recoil from its real meaning.  The proceeding these quack doctors recommend does not control any birth.  It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control.  … Normal people can only act so as to produce birth; and these people [the quacks] can only act so as to prevent birth.  But these people know perfectly well as I do that the very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines, or proclaimed on platforms, or scattered in advertisements like any other quack medicine.   They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising.  Therefore they use a conventional unmeaning word, which may make the quack medicine sound more innocuous.

‘ … Birth-Control … is not even a step along the muddy road they call Eugenics; it is a flat refusal to take the first and most obvious step along the road of Eugenics.  Once grant that their philosophy is right, and their course of action is obvious; and they dare not take it; they dare not even declare it.  If there is no authority in things which Christendom has called moral, because their origins were mystical, then they are clearly free to ignore all the difference between animals and men; and treat men as we treat animals.  They need not palter with the stale and timid compromise and convention called Birth-Control.  Nobody applies it to the cat.  The obvious course for Eugenists is to act towards babies as they act towards kittens.  Let all the babies be born; and then let us drown those we do not like.   … By the weak compromise of Birth-Prevention, we are probably sacrificing the fit and only producing the unfit.  The births we prevent may be the births of the best and most beautiful children; those we allow, the weakest or worst.  Indeed, it is probable; for the habit discourages the early parentage of young and vigorous people; and lets them put off the experience to later years, mostly from mercenary motives. …
‘Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom.  He is a fresh free will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect. … He is a creation and a contribution; he is their own creative contribution to creation.  He is also a much more beautiful, wonderful, amusing and astonishing thing than any of the stale stories or jingling jazz tunes turned out by the machines.  When men no longer feel that he is so, they have lost the appreciation of primary things, and therefore all sense of proportion about the world.  People who prefer the mechanical pleasures, to such a miracle, are jaded and enslaved.  They are preferring the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life.  They are preferring the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things of our dying Capitalist civilisation, to the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilisation.  It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.’