Religion and Birth Control Coverage

We are all, I suppose, aware of the current controversy about the government mandate that religiously affiliated institutions provide birth control coverage:

Seven states asked a federal judge Thursday to block an Obama administration mandate that requires birth control coverage for employees of religious-affiliated hospitals, schools and outreach programs.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Nebraska, alleges that the new rule violates the First Amendment rights of groups that object to the use of contraceptives. It marks the first legal challenge filed by states.

I have a complex attitude to this issue, mostly because I don’t understand the logic of the Obama administration in the matter. We are talking not only about religious rights here but also about the rights of employers. And I can’t say that I find it easy to blame the Catholic employers in this situation. A non-Catholic employee has a choice not to work for a religious organization and seek employment elsewhere. Yes, we are in a recession and jobs are hard to come by. I get that. However, a Catholic bishop has absolutely no choice whatsoever in the issue. He cannot, by his nature, be in favor of contraception. I don’t share this belief, I find it egregiously wrong, but there are people who believe that contraception is evil. The government is placing them in a completely untenable position where their only choice is to stop employing altogether. Or sue. Which is what they are doing.

Now, I might be misunderstanding something but there is a variety of alternative solutions to the issue that the government is not even trying to explore. For instance, the very need for employers to provide birth control can be obviated by making contraceptives very cheap and easily obtainable. If the government believes (correctly) that contraception is something everybody should have access to, then it makes sense that the institution that holds this belief should start providing contraception to people instead of forcing institutions that don’t hold it to do so. Why should it necessarily be the reluctant employer and not the willing government?

That, of course, would entail making a hard and probably somewhat unpopular choice on the part of the administration. Why assume this risk when it’s so much easier to shift the burden of the decision onto the already unpopular Catholic leaders?

Nobody is a greater believer in the importance of easy access to good-quality contraception than I am. However, I keep getting the feeling that the current controversy is not really about contraception at all. At least not on the part of the Obama administration. The whole issue could have been resolved without involving the Catholics at all. I, for one, would really like to know why it wasn’t.

Is Playing Outside Important?

Isabel left the following comment that I’m putting in a separate post because I don’t want it to be lost:

When we were kids we used to have the run of the whole neighborhood and we took advantage. Empty lots and woods between houses, construction projects, a deserted day camp, old fields of a nearby farm, etc. When my brother visited recently after many years, we took my nieces, who are growing up in the same neighborhood, for a walk through our old haunts, or at least those that remain. They kept saying things like “isn’t this private property?” “are you sure it’s okay to go here” “isn’t this dangerous?” “maybe we should go back home now” “there are ticks in those woods”.

This is really sad, people. I can’t even begin to enumerate all of the ways in which this picture of the world and of nature as horribly dangerous places saddens me. As a kid, I had the best time ever playing with my little friends outside. Since the age of four (I don’t have many earlier memories), I was always playing outside with other kids, both in the city and in the country-side. Those are among my best childhood memories.

I’ve been having this discussion with N. recently, and he sees the idea of kids playing at home with their Playstations instead of running outside with friends as completely normal. Maybe I’m getting old, but it always makes me very happy to see kids of all ages playing outside and it saddens me to imagine them stuck at home with their video games all day long.I’m not against video games per se, but I feel like important aspects of childhood are being lost for the sake of completely imaginary safety concerns.

“Why Doesn’t the Bible Contain Superior Medical Advice?”

I understand that the current wave of religious fanaticism is scary and annoying. We are all equally fed up with fanatics trying to destroy the advances of enlightened societies. I get it, people, we all fear that the world will plunge into the depths of barbarity. Practicing complete and utter idiocy, however, is not a good response to that. The attitude of “I’ll combat jerkdom by being the baddest jerk of all bad jerks” will only add to the problem.

I’m saying all this because the proliferation of articles that try to ridicule holy texts is very disturbing to me. Here is the most recent example:

Many will consider the answer to the question posed in the title of this post obvious, as indeed do I: The Bible does not contain superior medical knowledge, or indeed anything that we might consider medical knowledge in the modern sense at all, because it was written before there was any medical knowledge, much less advanced medical knowledge.

I always feel very embarrassed when people are so militant in their stupidity. I see absolutely no difference between the author of this inane post and folks who, instead of saying “My intellectual limitations and lack of knowledge prevent me from understanding evolution”, proudly deliver the “Evolution is just a theory, anyways” line.

If the author of this strange piece took the trouble of chewing before blabbering, he’d very easily find out the following two things:

a) the Bible (whether you believe in its divine nature or consider it simply a work of literature) contains some of the very best practices of psychological hygiene that humanity has been able to come up with. Just a small example among many: have you seen Jews at prayer? How is what they do any different from stimming, an anxiety-reducing practice that helps autistics and non-autistics alike?

b) the very point of practicing a religion (any religion) is to maintain one’s psychological and, consequently, physical health in a way that the pill-popping, “cut it out and then think about it later”, chemically-dependent, “superior” medical knowledge will not be necessary. Don’t practice this approach to life if you don’t feel like it. But, at least, strain your intellect and realize that if a religious text discussed triple bypasses and anti-spasmolytics, it would stop being a religious text.

Religious fanatics annoy us because they allow for no space where people can have alternative worldviews and organize their lives according to different principles. It is sad, indeed, that many non-religious folks also become fanatical to the point where, in their zeal to promote their point of view as the only correct one, they cannot even accept the idea that different value systems can be just as valid as theirs.