Birth Control/Michael Frayn

1 October 2001

Birth Control

“A problem which everyone talks about, is that of birth control, as it is called, namely, of population increase on the one hand and family morality on the other. It is an extremely grave problem.”
Pope Paul VI 23 June 1964 (My favourite pope, despite all this.)

A non-Catholic view.
Michael Frayn in The Observer, 17 May 1964

(Reprinted in “The Pill” a book produced in 1964 to document the Catholic debate on birth regulation, mostly reproducing documents from The Pope, various Cardinals, theologians, and national hierarchies. This contribution was put in to give us a rest at half-time.)

It is with a close and warmly sympathetic interest that all men of good will, whatever their creed, are following the vigorous debate now going on within the Carthaginian Monolithic Church on the vexed question of rear-view mirrors.

It has long been the teaching of the Church that looking backwards while travelling forwards is categorically and explicitly forbidden by God, since it was for doing this that He visited instant fossilization upon Lot’s wife.

In this context ‘looking back’ has always been interpreted as frustrating the natural forward gaze of the traveller, whether by turning the head, or by the interposition of a mechanical device such as a mirror.

Carthaginian Monolithic theologians claim that looking back is not only divinely prohibited, but can also be seen by the light of reason to be contrary to natural law, since it is patently interfering with nature to inhibit the inherent tendency of fast moving objects to collide, and it is frustrating the natural consequences of the act of driving – the possibility that an heir may succeed to the driver’s estate.

Moreover, they argue, there is a strong aesthetic objection to looking back, since it must plainly detract from the spontaneity of the driving act, and they point out how much more insipid life becomes if the spice of the unexpected is removed altogether. It must in all fairness be pointed out that the keen interest of the Monolithic clergy in preserving spontaneity and avoiding insipidity is entirely altruistic, since they do not themselves drive.

These arguments notwithstanding, the Church has long recognised the need to prevent cars crashing into the back of one another indiscriminately, and Monolithics are permitted to avoid it by abstaining from driving altogether, or by driving only during the so-called ‘safe period’, between midnight and six a.m., when the chances of being crashed into are greatly reduced.

Nevertheless, there is a sympathetic – indeed, anguished – realization among many Monolithic leaders today that self-restraint alone may be inadequate to meet the situation. The question was less crucial in the days when the main effect of the doctrine was to prohibit monolithics from sitting with their backs to the engine in railway carriages. But the increasing popularity of the motor-car is putting an intolerable burden upon the accident wards of the world’s hospitals.

There is great sympathy, too, for the great strain undergone by Monolithic drivers who have been run into from behind perhaps 13 or 14 times already, and who now scarcely dare to drive home to see their wives if it involves turning right, or pulling out to pass a parked car.

It is to this agonizing problem that ‘the box’ may provide an answer. ‘The box’ is a rearward radar scanning device which scientists are still testing. ‘Liberal’ Monoliths believe that a scanning aerial cannot be said to ‘look’ back in the natural sense of looking, and that the radar screen does not deflect the natural forward gaze of the driver, like a mirror, but is a natural part of his natural forward view.

It is emphasized that even if ‘the box’ were to be accepted, it could never be used for merely selfish purposes, to avoid a crash simply because a crash was not desired, but only where a driver had already had three or more crashes, and there were genuine grounds for believing that another one might have a serious effect upon his health.

(Despite all the above, there is much to be said for Pope Paul VI’s views on marriage. Also, there is undoubtedly a place for natural family planning. It is just not effective enough in many situations and for many people. I wish that the Popes had kept to gospel views on all this, and not added ideas gleaned, I presume, from Greek philosophy. Ed.)

Gerry Danaher