In the 1870s, roughly three million Englishmen left farms and went to the cities to earn wages due to bad commodity prices and potential prosperity resulting from working in industrial jobs. However, wages were very low and rent very high and often families lived in tenements that lacked many amenities, such as water in the house. They became “wage slaves.” Thinkers distinguished between real wealth (owning what you produce) and token wealth (cash). However, this wealth was not able to feed, clothe and house a family very well because profit for employers trumped wages. For those married, the temptation to contracept was exceedingly strong to save one’s present family from the starvation that might have occurred if another child was conceived.
Leo XIII recognized in this encyclical Rerum novarum that the practical problems of family life at that time were based upon grave injustices to the working class caused by those who had the capital. Unbridled capitalism meant stockholders and owners of commercial factories earned exorbitant profits to the detriment of a family wage.
Fast forward to 2014, we can find a married couple living a frugal life. Poverty levels for one person was $12,701 and with a family of four was $24,200. One can expect that there would be variations depending on whether or not one was living in San Francisco (highly unlikely) or a small town in Texas. For a middle class family of four, depending on the city or town, income could vary anywhere from $50,000 to $100, 000+. Statistics do not give us all the details. However, housing, food, child care, transportation, healthcare, taxes and other necessities then (and now) make up the majority of the expenses necessary to run a household.
Given the disvalues of affluence and consumerism, young couples’ dreams are further fueled for a well furnished home, two cars, internet access, television, entertainment center, video games, eating out, splendid vacations—all these costs added to essentials or necessities of a home. In addition, there is often a lot of college debt to pay off, a mortgage, a need for health insurance, IRAs and investments for the future. With such a standard of living desired, how can this couple afford to have a “large family” or even two children? Thus, the contraceptive pill seems to solve this problem efficiently and easily in the short term by forgoing the expense of another child, even though medically (but not morally) the pill often produces harmful and expensive medical consequences later on for women. Green NFP also solves this problem, but it requires more personal discipline and a religious spiritual life. Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelium Gaudii: “The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds (67).” Affluence, together with a consumerist mindset and lack of discipline, makes practicing NFP (instead of taking the Pill) seem more difficult than it is. So, marriage becomes a search for private goods and is humanly altered accordingly rather than seen as God created it to be as a lifestyle, seeking God based on sacrifice and communication, with openness to life.
Unbridled capitalism requires large populations, cheap labor, and disposable income. As birthrates fall, consumption also goes or will go down, though not always immediately, lessening the profits of companies. Also many companies may not be able to find many workers. Health care costs also rise because fewer young people will be able to fill the coffers of a government health insurance through taxation. We are closer to a worldwide financial crisis due in part to the decline in population in the West and other areas of the world. Unbridled capitalism depletes large families and as developed and underdeveloped nations continue to contracept and abort away future generations, labor and consumers which give corporations and families their profits will lessen if not disappear.
In some ways, the debt laden middle class couples of some countries have something in common with the poor in working factories and mines in the early 20th century workers in England, but have more toys to play with at present. Urging people to have larger families seems cruel with the present unhealthy human ecology of capitalism that requires both husband and wife in Western countries to work outside the home due to a non-existent living family wage.
Condemning contraception as an intrinsic evil and calling it mortal sin because it is an evil means of preventing conception is one piece for potentially remedying the social structure of sin ruining Western or Third world lifestyle and the culture is not sufficient for evangelizing the family. Social justice demands that public policy in any country must also reverse the ethos of an unjust economy by politically insisting that it serve the family first and then the stockholder and management. Furthermore, the nanny state, making it not only difficult to be creative in the job markets but also giving a civil a right to women to kill their offspring in the womb, only adds to the depopulation of countries and the increase in poverty or destitution.
Recently in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has warned the world: “To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society” (128). It is also worse for the spiritual common good of a nation. As the economy and culture erodes in many countries, it becomes evident that only God can solve extraordinary problems facing the world disorder. The rest of us must do what we little we can by belonging to small associations, voting, and praying.
- Contraception and the Family-Enemy Economy: the Common Evil
- What does a religious brother have to say about marriage and family life?
- Year of Mercy: “He has mercy on those who fear him” (Lk 1.30)
- What’s Missing in the Apostles or Nicene Creed?
- God’s Forgiveness and Unconditional Love: A Challenge for the Synod on the Family