Saturday, May 19, 2007

Protestant Compromise, Radical Secularism, and Racist Eugenics: The Contraception Debate: 1900-1940

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Margaret Sanger and Joseph Goebbels: both master propagandists,
anti-Christians, and proponents of racist eugenics

Dr. Kathleen A. Tobin, historian and professor of Latin American Studies at Purdue University, has written a very interesting book: The American Religious Debate over Birth Control 1907-1937 (McFarland & Company, 2001). It is able to be extensively searched on Google. It makes for fascinating reading, especially for those completely unacquainted with the history of how almost universal practice of contraception came about. Some excerpts:

* * * * *

Representing the Anglo upper class around the globe, the Anglican Communion made some of the earliest pronouncements supporting eugenics, Malthusianism, and race theory, which fed into the birth control movement.

(p. 25)

Throughout the centuries there was essentially a religious consensus among those denominations that were rooted in Judeo-Christian foundations and Western thought.

(p. 39)

Martin Luther and John Calvin, prominent founders of Protestantism, both had strongly objected to contraception . . .

In 1522 Luther . . . condemned those "who seem to detest giving birth lest the bearing and rearing of children disturb their leisure." Both Luther and Calvin condemned Onanism . . .

(p. 41)

Missouri Synod Lutherans would ultimately differ strongly from United Lutherans on the issue of contraception, . . .

(p. 44)

Lutherans criticized the Lambeth Conference encyclical of 1920 for doing just that, inspiring movements outside the Church, . . .

(p. 57)

As other Protestant denominations in the United States considered a variety of possible solutions to social ills, Lutherans resisted . . .

(p. 70)

In fact, the stand against contraception by the Reformed Church, as well as by Southern Baptists and Missouri Synod Lutherans, would go unchanged . . .

(p. 72)

Fosdick and Potter did not include only the Catholic Church in the category of “old religion”; they were also critical of Lutherans and Calvinists . . .

(p. 94)

The conservative Missouri Synod Lutherans did not waver at all in their opposition during these years, . . .

(p. 102)

Lutherans did not grant approval of contraceptive use even when others did in 1931.

(p. 106)

Between the summer of 1930 and the spring of 1931 the public religious debate over birth control reached its high point. Nationwide debates erupted while entire denominations attempted to define their official positions. . . . an increasing number of liberal and mainline clergy pointed to evidence that a large number of couples were already deciding to prevent unwanted pregnancies and that it was proper to recognize that what they were doing was not sinful. Conservative clergy argued that the birth control issue transcended contemporary economic conditions and that modernists were making a serious mistake in adjusting religious doctrine to accommodate the American people's wishes. An editorial in the Commonweal described the widespread approval of contraception as the triumph of secularism and the death of the Protestant Reformation.

(p. 148)

The Review had not altogether abandoned Sanger's criticism of the Catholic Church . . .:
No one can deny that the Catholic opposition is the keystone of all the opposition to Birth Control. It permeates into every field. It explains why . . . the American Medical Association refuses to declare itself, and contraceptive technique is still not generally taught in medical schools . . .
(p. 149)

[numerous examples of Protestant clergy caving and compromising on the issue and adopting wholesale secularist, libertarian utilitarianism in sexual matters are then given, on pp. 149-151]

Though some denominations aside from the Catholic Church [in 1932 to 1937] continued to voice their opposition to artificial contraception use and lobbied against legalizing contraception, they did not make themselves as visible as Catholic spokespersons did. Consequently, birth control advocates pointed to the intensified lobbying efforts on the part of Catholics as a growing threat to the personal and political freedoms of Americans.

(p. 186)

The discussion among United Lutherans demonstrated their hesitance to endorse birth control.

(p. 188)

[I]n addition to Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews and “certain divisions of Lutherans and Baptists” remained opposed.

(p. 205)

See Dr. Tobin's related article: International Birth Control Politics: The Evolution of a Catholic Contraceptive Debate in Latin America.

* * * * *

Carole R. McCann, has written a similar book: Birth Control Politics in the United States, 1916-1945 (Cornell University Press; New edition, March 1999). Excerpts from the Google search page:

[T]he birth control movement depended on the language of eugenics to legitimate contraception. By articulating the goal of contraceptive legalization in a eugenic framework, the movement defined birth control as a necessary component of national efforts to promote racial betterment. If, as eugenics represented it, the American race was deteriorating because of inefficient breeding, birth control's application of "reason and intelligence" to reproduction could regenerate the race and ensure public health and the national welfare. . . .

The American eugenics movement was concerned primarily with differential birth rates between old-stock Americans and new immigrants and the "colored races." . . . Nordic-Teutonic America, in danger of committing race suicide, was being swamped by a "rising tide of color." The major fertility measures espoused by eugenicists were negative eugenics, the permanent sterilization or enforced celibacy of the unfit, and positive eugenics, the increase of birth rates among the "better stocks." The use of contraception by the "better stocks" represented part of the problem; it contributed to Nordic-Teutonic race suicide by artificially lowering their birth rates even further . . .

As a reputable science, eugenics provided the birth control movement with an authoritative language through which to legitimate women's rights to contraception. By situating birth control within the eugenic terrain of racial betterment, Sanger appropriated the authority and prestige of eugenics to birth control as a tool of racial health.

(pp. 99-100)

* * * * *

In his book, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger (Yale University Press, 1970), David M. Kennedy traces early medical reaction to Margaret Sanger's radically secularist birth control movement:

The associations, academies, and societies which alone could make an innovation such as birth control acceptable to the average doctor refused to endorse it. In late 1916, the New York County Medical Society . . . reported its fear that contraceptives, "indiscriminately employed," would undermine personal morality and national strength. The committee suspected that professional abortionists and "sensation-mongers" were behind much of the birth control propaganda.

(p. 174)

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