From the 1998 Inside the Vatican Special Supplement on Humanae Vitae:
The Whole Picture
An Interview with Janet Smith, Ph.D.
By John Mallon
Dr. Janet Smith is a popular author and lecturer on Humane Vitae, a consulter to the Pontifical Council on the Family, and teaches philosophy at the University of Dallas, Texas, USA.
John Mallon: Dr. Smith, this year we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the thirtieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae. It took only five years for Pope Paul VI's dire predictions to come true. Now we live in the results of that ignored prophecy. From your perspective, where do we stand now?
JANET SMITH Ph.D.: Well, certainly further down the slippery slope, and it certainly started with dissent from Humanae Vitae. Within the Church, we have the phenomenon of dissent, that was really initiated with the dissent from Humanae Vitae and now it covers the whole spectrum.
So, you have people who are no longer faced with believing the fundamental tenets of the faith and think they can still remain good Catholics in spite of that. That's all part of the aftermath of Humanae Vitae. And then, of course, you have the cultural chaos of what a contraceptive culture has become. It is constantly disintegrating.
We're at the point now where thirty-one percent of our babies are born out of wedlock. I think that, in itself, is a horrifying feature of modern culture. Young people are being brought up and raised into families in which there is no father, and that's just those that are born in single-parent households. Then the number of children that are living in households where their parents have divorced is a another whole question. Contraception has had a major impact on making relationships unstable.
JM: In some of the things you've written recently you mention the increasing phenomenon of predatory males. Could you say a few things about that?
Dr. Smith: Our culture has been very fond of male bashing, and I don't want to participate in that in any way. But, in a certain sense, we have focused so much on females in the last thirty years that we've done very little thinking about males. But now I think there's lots that's going on in that area.
For example, the Promise Keepers movement and St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers, where men are beginning to reassert themselves. One thing that the feminist movement seems to have played a part in, is portraying men as being ultimately sexually irresponsible — that women can't trust males, and that we have to get jobs and careers because our husbands might leave us. The notion is that we have to have contraception because males can't be expected to be responsible sexually and take care of us if we get pregnant, and so forth.
So, what contraception has done has helped set into motion the propensity of our culture to actually make men into predators. Of course, all of us are affected by original sin, and have a tendency towards some kind of bad behavior, and if you want to make broad generalizations, it seems to me that the virtue to which the male psyche is naturally inclined are the virtues of courage and protectiveness; that the male is meant to go out and fight the battles of the world and actually protect and take care of women and children.
But then, there's also a tendency in the male, as there is in all of us, to satisfy our basic desires, and to be very selfish. Our culture actually fosters that in a male, making the male who is protective and responsible, who tries to be chaste, and who tries to control his sexual desires feel as if he's some tame, domesticated animal — some pale reflection of true masculinity, and that he is less than fully masculine. As though the real masculine person is the one who is sexually out of control. Again, contraception has completely assisted in creating that picture of sexuality. It's basically a view of sex without responsibility and sex without consequences.
JM: Which is precisely one of the predictions Paul VI made, ironically.
Dr. Smith: Yes, that men would have less respect for women and there would be a general decline in morality.
JM: So the same argument the feminists are using was something Paul VI predicted before it became such a problem.
Dr. Smith: Before it became a cultural reality. Paul IV was speaking out of his own wisdom, but also, simply, out of the wisdom of the Church. The Church knows that we have this double, divided, soul. But we've done so little in our culture to really cultivate what is noble, not only about the male, but simply about the human person.
We've done little to raise up young men from early on to see themselves as someone who is someday going to be the provider for a family, and someone who is going to be taking care of young people. A man like that needs to be in control of his sexuality, he needs to learn how to provide for himself, and for a family. He has to know that success is not a matter of going out there to get as many women as you want, having the fastest car you can get and the most toned body that you can have.
JM: I was reading your introduction to your book Why Humanae Vitae was Right, and you used a term that really struck me. You used the term, "sexual holocaust," and I thought that was a very apt expression. Could you tell us what you mean by that?
Dr. Smith: Well, I certainly don't mean to offend any Jewish readers who might be offended, to some degree rightly, by anything that appropriates a term that reflects the horror of the Jewish Holocaust. What I really mean is that we've got a culture of people who are genuine victims — who have been preyed upon. We've got people who are living — I hate to say it — in a kind of a ghetto, in a concentration camp. They are what I called, in that introduction, as I recall, the sexually walking wounded.
We turn our teenagers out into the world with the expectation that they're going to be sexually active, without any kind of expectation of how hurt they are going to be because of their sexual activity — as if people can get in and out of casual sexual relationships, or any kind of sexual relationship, without having profound damage done to them.
When I refer to the sexual holocaust, I'm mainly thinking of those emaciated bodies, and those souls — those eyes that show this terrible woundedness and emptiness inside. And so many people can't see it! But that's what we have in our culture — all these people walking around who are deeply, deeply hurt, and don't know how to find any kind of semblance of happiness. As the country and western song says, they're looking for love in all the wrong places, and they just keep getting themselves more and more hurt, because of what our culture is teaching them.
JM: It seems you could almost say that since the Nazi holocaust — and the other various holocausts that have occurred throughout our century — that with abortion, and also with contraception, the devil has merely refined his methods. And now what was once a dirty filthy locale of death is now a clean and sterile environment. And yet, the same activity is occurring with the same results — death — and for the living there is that emptiness you speak of with the hollowness in the eyes.
Dr. Smith: Yes, that's exactly what I'm talking about. We are really talking about a culture that has allowed evil to run wild, and responsible adults are not taking charge. I put a lot of it at the doorstep of my generation. We are the ones who, in a certain sense, initiated the sexual revolution. And I think most people have come to realize that something is out of control. But I think a lot of these people seem to think that since they have survived the sexual revolution somehow, that their children will too, and so it's not anything to get all that upset about. The notion is that everybody sows his wild oats and things will right themselves, so we don't have to make too much of a fuss.
What they don't recognize is that most of us have the great blessing of having been raised by parents who were pretty stable. A lot of my generation still has parents who are married to each other. We have an example of great stability, and we have a source of stability in our life. But our children don't have that. Our children have us as parents — very unbalanced, uncertain, messed up people. And so, the children of this generation have no real experience of great stability in their lives.
So, we are drawing upon, and ultimately wasting a heritage that we were given and that we cannot pass on to our kids because we don't have it. Instead of looking at our lives and our history and saying, "Wow, we really made a mess of it, we went down some dead ends. We fell off some cliffs, and we really need to help rebuild the fences, and fill up the potholes, and do everything we can," we just sort of let the kids — and even push the kids — along the path that was incredibly destructive for us. So there is just something really short-sighted about the whole deal. Many people of my generation are simply not willing to admit that we made a terrible, terrible mistake. We should be spending all the energies that we have making certain the next generation does not make these same mistakes.
JM: Well, our generation has a point of reference, but the children coming along have nothing to go back to, have no other example. But, on the other hand we have something you've commented on, for example, a very encouraging generation of young priests. They, and other young people in the Church reminds me of the part in the Book of Ezekiel, where God tells Ezekiel to tell the people, "I Myself will shepherd and guide my flock. My priests and my teachers have gone astray. My people have gone astray. I myself will shepherd them." We really seem to be seeing that phenomenon with the young today, of God Himself reaching out to them. You see among them a recovery of tradition, and an excitement for the truth. Apart from God's direct intervention, you almost wonder where they learned about it.
Dr. Smith: Oh, I think a lot of them learn about it at home. Some people of my generation didn't fall into the pit. And so, they've managed to raise really wonderful children, who are the priests of the future. A lot of them have learned it from the Pope himself. They have been following very closely what John Paul II teaches us, or they've had the opportunity to run into some great priest, or some great professor, some great parent, who has shown them the way. My point is that there are just too few of those — too few of us — who are taking responsibility. But when we do, that's what we can produce.
JM: One of the most alarming things that we see right now, as we reach this thirtieth anniversary, is the phenomenon of contraceptive imperialism. Pope Paul spoke of this, too, of wealthier, stronger governments imposing contraception as a controlling mechanism on poorer countries. This is happening especially in Latin America, and there's a raging debate in the U.N. and in the U.S. Congress about this right now. This is one of the most frightening predictions of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, and it's right here on our doorstep.
Dr. Smith: Right. It seems to me that the devil has his foothold in this world now through the population controllers. That's very clear to me because population controllers are the ones that are spreading contraception and abortion, and therefore, family dysfunction across the whole world.
JM: As well as forced sterilization —
Dr. Smith: Forced sterilization, you name it. And it is going to be corrupting other cultures in the same way it has corrupted our culture. The evidence is overwhelming that we are not facing any true over-population crisis. As a matter of fact, I'm sure you know, and many of your readers know, there are already conferences at the U.N. on what to do about declining populations.
I really think that this whole population control movement is really in the hands, ultimately, of the devil. But more immediately, in the hands of feminists and those who think that the population control movement clearly can be used as a tool for so-called reproductive rights, and then, as well, there are the environmentalists. So I think there are two groups that are using a population scare to advance goals that are very different from true population control.
JM: It makes you wonder if the people in the U.N. are speaking to each other because they're holding conferences about what to do about the decline, yet the opposite propaganda keeps getting out.
Dr. Smith: They're having lectures simultaneously. They were having a conference on overpopulation and a conference on declining population within the same building at the U.N. We're facing something that is truly remarkable.
JM: You've written so much, and spoken so much on Humanae Vitae — in fact, I thought it was very telling, and kind of amusing, that once when I tried to call you for this interview, your phone message said, "If you are trying to book a speaking engagement, please call this number..." It struck me that you have to have a whole separate line to handle the requests you get to speak, when it used to be said that nobody wants to hear about this topic.
Dr. Smith: Right! Exactly! Isn't it something? I could easily be on the road every weekend of the year. My schedule fills up about a year to a year and a half in advance now. Yes, I think that is a sign that people truly are hungry for this. I think the reason that they invite me is because people want to know what the Church teaches, and they want to live by what the Church teaches.
There is a native reverence in people's hearts, that many in the Church have not acknowledged. There is this whole generation of dissenters, who, to my mind, are working out their own personal journey, if you want to call it that, which evidently involves some struggle with Church teaching. And they have made this into a universal struggle. But, in point of fact, it is not a universal struggle. There are many, many, many Catholics who simply want to be Catholic, wholeheartedly, completely, fully, and it is not a part of their personal journey that they have to wrestle every Church teaching to the ground and see who comes up victorious.
They are saying, "I've given myself wholeheartedly to this institution. I see the Church as being the bride of Christ. I see the Church as being guided by the Holy Spirit. I just want to know what it teaches." And so, I think that many in the Church are wrong to think that it will chase people out of the Church if you teach these hard teachings. I think it will bring many into the Church, and solidify many people's commitment to the Church. Because again, I think when people do live it, they find that it is incredibly enriching.
JM: As I said, you've written and spoken so much about this subject. You must know it by heart, but is there anything really new, any new insights you have about where we are, where we are going, and what's occurring on this front? Are there any emerging new insights that have occurred to you, or issues that you see in a new light?
Dr. Smith: Well, in a certain sense you are always seeing something new. In terms of what I was saying about our culture turning males into predators, I think, to some extent, there was a short period of time where I was kind of buying into the perspective that men are predators by nature. Not just sort of post-lapsarian predators, but that it was written into their very nature in some fundamental way. But I've come to see — certainly in many of my male friends, but also, to some extent, in some of my students — that they have an almost a natural affinity for chastity. And I've seen how ennobling it is in them. There is a certain fear — but it's a good fear, of, again, out-of-control passions — but even more fundamentally, I think it is a fear of exploiting something wonderful, harming something beautiful, which is your own purity, and also the purity of some woman.
Sometimes I think it is a great blessing that many of these young men have that comes with being raised in a family with many children where they learn to take responsibility for their sisters and the small children in the household. I have many friends who have large families and when I see the older boys dealing with the infant girls, it is extraordinary.
Of course, almost any infant can call forth a love affair. There's certainly a love affair between the mother and her child. But the love affair between a fifteen-year-old boy and his baby sister is just adorable. When you look at this man you realize it is going to be very, very hard for him to exploit any woman. Because he's already adopted, in his heart of hearts, this protective attitude that says, "I want no one to harm this woman," that is, a female. And then it begins to be extended to others, to the other women that he sees. He becomes just like a father — like what occurs when that switch goes on in men when they become fathers. It's the attitude which says, "I'm keeping this girl at home until she's twenty-five, because I don't want men to treat her like I treated women."
With these boys, it happens early on. You know you talk about a maternal instinct, but there is, equally, a paternal instinct. And it can kick in during the early teen years. These are the men who say, "Oh. Sexuality is all in service of life, and I don't ever want to put my sexuality in service of harming this beautiful femininity."
So there is something that chastity brings with it — an incredible reverence for what is beautiful and what is good. And I've seen that. I've seen it in my young men that I teach. I've looked at them and thought, I'm sure they have — as we all have — disordered passions, but they see them for what they are, so they're prepared to try to engage in mastery. Whereas, again, the rest of our culture has said, "Oh, there's nothing disordered about passions, be lusty, let them flow." But these men say, "No, I'm going to put this all in service of what is good."
So I suppose that has been a recognition that's been growing over the years, when I look at the really beautiful family men that I know, and then see what sorts of sons they are raising, and then having some of them in my classroom, saying they've been caricatured. It's amazing that they've survived a culture that is trying to rob them of their virtue.
JM: That's another benefit of a large family.
Dr. Smith: Oh, it's one of the great benefits of a large family. One of the little, pieces of "older sister" advice that I try to pass on to people is that when your children become teenagers, when your oldest becomes a teen, if you could possibly have another child it would be such a good thing. Because then by the time your teenager marries, you'll have grandchildren that can be the babies that your youngest can take care of.
Enroll your child in a camp, as a counselor. Let them take responsibility for small children. I think that is such an amazing, transforming relationship, that so many children now are missing in this culture that thinks you shouldn't have more than two. But there's never going to be a baby in the household when you only have two, and they are never going to have that experience of being an older brother or sister to an infant, which I think is one of the most precious and valuable experiences that a young person can have.
JM: Yes, it's also natural. A friend and I have recently been taking walks in the evening by a lake nearby, and we happened to befriend a little family of ducks, a mother duck with about fifteen little ducklings. And we started off throwing them birdseed, and the mother and the ducklings would come up and peck away at the birdseed while the male duck would kind of swim around the perimeter, watching. He wouldn't eat, he would protect and he would watch, and keep a little zone of safety. And we seem to have lost that, in so many ways, as human beings.
Dr. Smith: It really is a shame. It does seem, again, that we try to beat that beautiful instinct out of people.
JM: Human instinct.
Dr. Smith: Yes. It is an instinct, but of course on the human level, then again, it's raised to a so much more beautiful level.
Another thing, is that turning the Church around might be easier than people think, if they're willing to do just a very few things. I think there are two things, maybe there are more. If you get your congregation accepting the Church's teaching on contraception, and if you got your congregation, each member, individually, spending an hour a week in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it seems to me everything else would flow from that. You would have very few problems, aside from the natural problems of life.
Many people say that people who accept the Church's teaching on contraception don't accept the Church's teaching on social justice. I want to say that's nonsense. It's usually that they don't accept certain people's interpretation of social justice. The people I know who accept the Church's teaching on contraception are phenomenally generous, in all sorts of ways, with their time, with their person, with their money, to the poor, to the downtrodden, to the missions, to the unborn — you name it.
It cultivates a generosity of heart, and I think these people would be very easily led by their pastor to take care of the homeless, and whatever is the immediate need, or even a distant need, of a parish, and whatever social justice project the pastor thought the parish should be involved in. Equally, of course, and even more so, if people were doing Eucharistic Adoration. It just makes one's heart want to say, "What more can I do?" And if priests were pushing these two things, if they made these the major projects of the formation of their congregation, I think they would find all the other goals that they want to achieve would be taken care of.
JM: Since you've mentioned it, it's observable in the Church that in the 60s, those clergy and religious who did not want to preach or teach Humanae Vitae grasped onto some interpretations of social justice, and that became the split between the two, the so-called progressives claimed to be for social justice while the more traditionally minded were upset at the neglect of the sexual teachings. But now, it appears that it has come full circle.
Church teachings, of course, have a continuity to them. One of the big theological fashions, certainly in the 80s, revolved around political situations in Latin America. And now, the two issues have come together, and the big business of pushing of contraceptives on the poor — who can't even get normal medical supplies — has become a genuine social justice issue in the third world, where women are forced to be sterilized, or duped into it when they are vulnerable. Attending to the poor has turned into getting rid of the poor, and the two issues are once again linked, like one of those highways, where the Northbound side goes around one side of a hill, and the Southbound goes around the other side, and then they come together again.
JM: I wonder about those in the Church who rejected Humanae Vitae in favor of a particular brand of social justice. Where are they now? When people, especially poor women, are being pressured, duped, and forced, and even inoculated without their knowledge against future pregnancy?
Dr. Smith: Yes, I think you're absolutely right; it has come full circle. There is this mixture of social justice with the Church's sexual teachings, although I'm not certain it hasn't always been that way. We've had, for example, the whole exploitation of women through abortion.
JM: Yes, my point is that the split was false.
Dr. Smith: Yes, the split was false. There is a continuity in Church teaching. Let's say that people who claim that their interest is helping people in third world countries, and that they want to work on redressing a great economic imbalance, and bring democracy to the nations, and so on. And then they look at Catholics and say, "Well, here are these people who are fighting abortion, fighting contraception. What are they doing about people in third world countries?" I want to say, "You have a natural constituency here among people who are fighting abortion and contraception. They would be more than happy to help you with your projects in third world countries. But the point is, unless you support them on abortion and contraception, they don't trust you. They don't know what agenda you're pushing. You say, "Help us on this, help us on that, but they look askance at you with a look that's saying, 'How do we know that what you're doing is fully in accord with Church teaching, because we know that you reject Church teaching?'" So, what I want to say to people who want to get more so-called conservative people involved in social justice programs, is that I think it could be easily done, if you would pledge your allegiance to Church teaching on these issues.
What they're dealing with is largely what you and I know as prudential fear. We all think that justice is important. We all think fair wages are important. We all think self-representation is important. But how to achieve that is a prudential decision. So, conservatives will agree with all the principles of those who are advancing social justice. What we want to know is, are their programs any good? And we want to say, "We'll believe you in your programs if you'll grant us the Church teaching on these other subjects. Then we'll know that your first and foremost allegiance is to the truth." Compassion is very important, but we know that compassion not linked to truth can cause great, great harm in this world. What they don't cultivate, is an absolutely natural constituency, people who are going to say, "Listen, I'm willing to make great sacrifices to the Church. I've sacrificed my time, I've sacrificed my sexuality, I've sacrificed all sorts of things. I'll be happy to sacrifice for what the Church wants me to do in third world countries, but I don't know if I can trust you."
JM: Yes, especially when you hear very little about these contraceptive injustices going on. It's population control instead of responsible parenthood.
Dr. Smith: Let me give you just one sort of anecdotal instance of this. When I was in the Philippines a couple of years ago, I met these incredibly wonderful women who were part of the Focalare movement. And they had responded to their bishop's call to teach Natural Family Planning to the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. Now, as it turns out, they weren't only teaching Natural Family Planning. They found themselves, very naturally, teaching three things. One was Natural Family Planning. The other was to teach them some sort of economic skill, sometimes on a very low level, like making candy. Or they found some ways to make potholders out of shoelaces that were defective, and all sorts of other little economic skills so these individuals could make some money to support their families.
Then, secondly, they were helping them understand how to get their rights from the government For example, how to apply for different things that were available to them and how to push for certain liberties and certain government services they were entitled to. So these women who went into these neighborhoods to teach Natural Family Planning found that yes, you have to have the whole picture. Again, it is a natural constituency. Their hearts were there to help those people, and they were ready to give them every form of help they needed. I don't want to use vast generalizations or any kind of a caricature, but it's often that when some people speak of social justice it's only economic justice that they have in mind, and you want to say, No, we want the whole picture. We want to help them, certainly, with economic justice. We want to help them build a family life. We want to help them build their relationship with God. We want to do all those things. Let's not bifurcate these things. Let's make it a package deal.