Mention the topic of birth control to a group of Catholics and folks leap (knee jerk reaction) to the assumption that the conversation will soon be about abortion, but not this time. While attending a Jesuit University in the early Sixties approving the use of birth control pills was an indication that the student was showing a nasty propensity toward unorthodox thinking and anticipated the need for the expression "get your mind right, Luke." A comedian (wasn't George Carlin always the source for all truly funny original thoughts?) back then made the assertion that "Catholics make the best fascists" and thus were used to accepting theological precepts while in the "unquestioning" mode of learning, but for one student who didn't want to create waves and rock the boat, there were some very disturbing tangential aspects to the birth control debate which led the rogue thinker to question the morality of warfare, which was a very, very convoluted line or reasoning and best left unexpressed in a regimented atmosphere that equated heresy with treason.
At a time when American involvement in the internal affairs
of South Vietnam was limited to sending a few advisors to help the South
Vietnamese military handle dissent as they saw fit, questioning the morality of
warfare was incidental in a segment of society that concentrated on stressing the
rationality of using sperm and ovum to play a variation on the game of "Russian
Since college, even at a Jesuit University, is meant to be a time for sharpening one's intellectual acuity, one particular student in the early Sixties was asking himself obscure questions meant to challenge his ability to analyze and assess regimented thinking. Such as? If one of the Ten Commandments advises folks to not do any killing, how then could the Pope reconcile German Catholics and American Catholics trading bullets, artillery shells, bayonet wounds, and aerial bombardments with each other during WWII?
Shouldn't the Pope, whom we had been convinced spoke with absolute
infallibility, have stepped in and, like a football referee, adjudicated the
dispute and saved lives?
How could the Pope reconcile extensive killing from one side of his mouth while simultaneously assuring married couples that the sanctity of life required them to play a high stakes game of chance out the other side of his mouth?
Either life is sacred or not, but to maintain that young
couples had to gamble with their future because the lives of their potential
progeny were sacred and that once their children reached the age of 18 they
were just cannon fodder to be used as counters in a world wide game of Imperial
chess isn't logical.
[We keep hearing PSA sound bytes on the progressive radio station in San Francisco reminding listeners to register with the draft board right after they celebrate their 18th birthday. Are liberals still dispensing advice on how to dodge the draft in Berkeley CA? You must register. It's the law. Fact check this on line.]
Resources for fact checking abounded at a Jesuit University,
because teachers of philosophy, logic, and theology were plentiful, but the
answer to our question remained tantalizingly elusive. Ultimately we were able to pin down the
official stance on war and killing as taught by the Pope and holy mother the
church: "A Catholic citizen of any country
may, in good conscience, participate in any war fought by his country as long
as there is reasonable expectation of victory."
That explained it. The American Catholics thought that Patton was going to take them all the way to Berlin, and the German Catholics thought that Hitler would quarterback a magnificent goal line stand by his team. No problem.
However, there was one teeny, tiny problem with that vague
and nebulous doctrine that was just about totally irrelevant until after
graduation. Early on in the American
intervention in the affairs of South Vietnam, Americans were reassured that the
United States wasn't going to get bogged down in a long, arduous, and costly
(in terms of lives lost) campaign for total victory. The U. S. would fight until things were
back under control and then (like the Cheshire cat?) withdraw from the area
formerly known as French Indochina.
If the US wasn't going for victory how long would it be until the priests in the USA unanimously opposed the War in Vietnam on moral grounds?
When the students at UC Berkeley chanted "Hey, hey, LBJ, how
many kids did you kill today?," were they referring to unborn fetuses?
Since we were assessed as having a draft status of 1-Y and since our nomadic existence precluded a chance to take vows and enter into the holy institution of marriage, our obsession with reconciling the birth control question with the problem presented by optional military adventures in foreign lands, was put on hold for a good long while. LBJ explained the lack of involvement with use of the expression: "He doesn't have a dog in that fight!"
Later in life we became our own source for theological opinion by becoming an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church. (We are still trying to fact check the assertion that all members of the Sixties band, The Rolling Stones, availed themselves of the same opportunity.)
Now that the fiscal cliff has been postponed and the only
item of national concern is the perennial debate about guns, we have a chance
to sit back, reflect on the past, and polish our omphaloskepsis (a word which
baffles Word Spellcheck) skills and revisit some intellectual conundrums from
Did the mavens of pop culture ever conclusively answer the question: "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?"?