Left, right, RH
While the interpellations over the reproductive health bill in the House of Representatives have come to an end, debates will continue for a long time, into the Senate and, more importantly, in homes, schools and churches.
Amid all the noise, we need to ask the local leadership of the Catholic Church to state, categorically, if they support family planning at all. From all indications, they oppose family planning, whether “natural” or “artificial.” And the reasons are not doctrinal, because there are numerous documents, from the Catholic Catechism to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ own declarations on responsible parenthood, that in fact allow family planning, for as long as it is “natural.” (See Eleanor Dionisio’s column last week, “But doesn’t the CBCP support responsible parenthood?”)
What we hear from the bishops and priests is ideological fire and fury directed against all family planning, and it is time to look at how these arguments come from a strange mix of arguments from the Left and the Right.
The Left view is exemplified by Mao Zedong, China’s leader for almost 30 years. In 1958, Mao was said to have proclaimed, “In the past I said we could manage with 800 million. Now I think 1 billion would be no cause for alarm.” When Mao died in 1976, China’s population had hit 946 million. Mao Zedong believed that in a socialist society, with good governance and equitable distribution of wealth, there was no need to worry about population growth.
The Right end of the ideological spectrum, represented by the late economist Julian Simon, also sees no problems with a large population. Unlike Mao though, Simon and his followers believe that large populations are most beneficial for, and in, capitalism. More people mean more consumers, and more workers. Let things be, Simon argues, and capitalism will always find ways to meet the needs of a population, no matter how rapid its growth was. Simon also opposed environmental conservation efforts, again arguing that capitalism would find solutions to environmental problems, preferably without government intervention.
I wonder how Mao and Simon would respond if they saw how their ideas are now being combined and used by Catholic bishops. Mao would probably frown at the bishops talking about economic equality and yet pursuing extravagant lifestyles and cavorting with corrupt politicians. Simon, on the other hand, would be surprised to find that the very same bishops using his arguments against population control are also at the forefront of antimining and environmental causes. An example of how Simon-type economists dismiss environmentalism comes in an article by Joseph Kellard, writing in the magazine Capitalism Today. After praising Simon’s opposition to environmentalism, he proposes that “environmentalist doomsayers are a logical outgrowth of religious apocalyptics, and their believers are just another sect of mystics.”
Both Mao and Simon’s support for unlimited population growth has been heavily disputed. Contrary to Simon’s projections, our environmental problems have grown through the years, exemplified by human-induced climate change. Our bishops fret too about climate change, but seem to forget this is climate change induced by humans and population growth.
As for Mao, barely three years after his death his successors, led by Deng Xiaoping, launched a draconian “one child per family” policy to slow down China’s population growth, one that has led to many abuses.
A few years ago, when the reproductive health bill was still on low boil, a physician friend in the Visayas told me about how she had participated in an antimining rally, marching side by side with her bishop. At one point, the bishop turned to her and invited her to join another rally, this time directed against the “Ligtas Buntis” campaign of the Department of Health, which was a maternal health program but which the Catholic bishops claimed was a front for population control and abortion. My friend smiled politely and of course didn’t show up for the anti-Ligtas Buntis rally, being a firm believer in family planning.
Like my physician friend, I would like to see more consistency from Catholic church leaders. I am against corruption too, and not just in government but also in the private sector. But, as I always tell my students, you have no right to complain about corruption if you can’t get your own act together in school; for example, if you cheat in your exams. By extension, the Catholic Church’s moral authority emanates not from doctrinal declarations but from how it behaves, and in this day and age, we have seen how many of the faithful are appalled by the way child molesters among the clergy were protected, shielded from prosecution. I am anticipating angry letters from other Catholic faithful saying we should just keep quiet about all these scandals and trust our bishops. And to you, I say in advance, you are not being faithful to the Church; you are part of the corruption that is destroying the Church.
Finally, I couldn’t agree more about the need for an equitable distribution of wealth and resources, but again would like to see Catholic leaders walking the talk with their own vast wealth. We need to see a revival of the social action programs that began in the 1970s that worked with the poorest of the poor, not with dole-out medical missions but with capacity-building programs for livelihood, shelter, health care. Yes, Gawad Kalinga is doing some of that, but remember too how they came under attack from conservatives supposedly for moving away from more spiritual concerns.
A growing number of Christians, including Catholics, see faith as being built on social justice and it is this cardinal principle that makes us oppose population control, including the “one child per family” policy of China. But it is social justice, too, that makes us support family planning, in the interest of promoting better health and survival of mothers, children and families.
Since I began my column by referring to the two ideological camps that have provided the mix-and-match arguments for anti-family planning groups, I want to go back and say there are Marxists and “leftists” as well as “capitalists” who accept family planning. There are people on the Left who see no contradiction between fighting for social justice and providing family planning services.
Likewise, there are dyed-in-the-wool capitalists who recognize that a large population does not necessarily translate to more consumers or, as local Opus Dei economists keep arguing, to Filipino workers for export. A more realistic view from capitalists is that a large population and irresponsible parenthood strain our social services, and society itself, tearing families and communities apart.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.