Get a first look inside Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad
Today’s newsletter is a completely free sneak peek into the intro of my new book, Reclaiming Motherhood from a Culture Gone Mad, published by Our Sunday Visitor (© 2022). If you’d rather listen, an audio version is available on the Brave New Us podcast.
To become a parent is to become a steward of God’s precious gift of life.
And yet we find ourselves in a culture where, far from being treated with awe, the family is being dissected. Motherhood, central to the identity of women, is being erased from our minds as the self-evident notion that men and women contribute uniquely to the world becomes cultural heresy. Parenthood is less often understood as a gift than it is valued in market terms. Women are treated as raw material for the production of children — who come with a price tag. The future of the unborn is increasingly predicated upon possession of characteristics that merit continued existence. Women are told that all that matters in the delivery room is a healthy baby, and not to worry over breastfeeding because “fed is best” — but do these reassurances correspond with truth? Does contraception prevent abortions, or does it paradoxically increase the need for them? What does the evidence say?
Our age is fraught with lies that, if left unexamined, seep into our thinking, slowly poisoning us against God’s truth. These lies permeate secular culture but can also be recognized as motivating influences within our Church. If we are honest, we might even recognize them in our own minds. As if in a warped game of telephone, Enlightenment philosopher René Descartes’s profound declaration, “I think, therefore I am,” has devolved into the chant of postmodernity: “I am whatever I think I am.” Our culture has bought into the lie that if the truth hurts, then it must be rejected in favor of some more palatable “reality.” When “the'' truth hurts, we simply make up our own.
We have made each individual into his own god, one whose own will is paramount (provided it does not impinge upon the will of another), whose only guide is his own experience of pleasure and fulfillment. This is a philosophy of selfishness and isolation under the guise of freedom. This stunted paradigm of personal growth sees freedom from constraint as a precondition for happiness. Within this paradigm, children become objects: they are either obstacles to their mother’s flourishing (defined narrowly in economic terms), or else trophies to be collected to satiate her desire for fulfillment through the status of motherhood.
Rediscovering Motherhood through Church Teaching and Sound Bioethics
There is an alternative narrative, one that frees women to become who they are. Our Church tells a powerful story about women and motherhood, about our place as bearers and nurturers of life. The cultural experiments of the last sixty years have yielded a love-starved world growing lonelier as family ties grow thin. We need a cultural revival on the issues of womanhood, motherhood, sexuality, and life.
This book is an attempt to explore the truth about who we are in the context of the lies we face in our present-day culture. The contemporary attacks on our femininity and our fertility provide us with new ways of understanding and unpacking the Revelation that the Holy Spirit has imparted to the Church throughout the ages. Although this truth is steadfast and unchanging, our understanding of it develops throughout time as new social and scientific developments reveal different facets of God’s unchanged plan for our lives. The following chapters present, in light of God’s Revelation, a cross-examination of current social and medical trends threatening to dismantle motherhood.
When Donum Vitae was released, the Los Angeles Times called it “an all-out attack” on scientific advancements. Such a view represents one of the defining paradigms of our culture: scientism, which relies on the assumption that all technological advancements are good. Others hold that scientific progress is at best neutral, creating new tools whose morality is not intrinsic but dependent upon the purposes of those who wield them. Think of dynamite or nuclear fission; these technologies carry with them the potential for both great good and great evil.
Reproductive technologies are different. They are tools that in themselves work to redefine basic concepts of our humanity, including motherhood and the family. They transform the gift of life into an object of manipulation, thereby redefining the meaning of human existence. As such, the choice to employ them is never merely individual and cannot be value-neutral. The ends or desires of those who use these technologies cannot justify their use.
Donum Vitae and Dignitas Personae argue that these technologies are intrinsically immoral. Reclaiming Motherhood’s chapters on prenatal testing (chapter 5), IVF (chapter 9), surrogacy (chapter 10), and emerging reproductive technologies (chapter 11) draw on the wisdom of these documents and elaborate on ways to uphold human dignity in these areas.
Chapters on contraception (chapter 4), childbirth (chapter 6), and nursing (chapter 7) both examine Scripture and the saints to help us understand the meaning and mystery of who we as women are created to be, and also highlight the bioethical questions at stake. The design of our bodies is not happenstance, but intentional. Our fertility is not pathology to be controlled, but a gift from our Creator to lead us more deeply to the truth of who we are created to be in love and relationship.
From the doctor’s office to the corporate office, from the pews to our own homes, this book unpacks cultural narratives and defends the truth of the Church, giving readers permission to say no to practices that violate human dignity and to affirm the beauty of God’s gifts of motherhood and the family.
A Mission of Love
This book places the moral teachings of the Church in the context of God’s vision for our vocation and true happiness. Reclaiming motherhood means reclaiming our responsibility as stewards of the truth about who we are and how we are meant to live, and this book equips us to carry out that mission. As women, we have within our nature a unique capacity to embrace and proclaim the truth in love. Whether or not we have been granted the gift of physical motherhood, we are all called to spiritual motherhood, and this impels us to communicate the truth to the people God has placed in our lives, who are in a very real sense our spiritual children. We do this not in the spirit of condemnation that our culture so fears, but in a spirit of love, because in a world starved for meaning, we are fortunate to be in possession of the bread that truly satisfies.
We do this not in the spirit of condemnation that our culture so fears, but in a spirit of love, because in a world starved for meaning, we are fortunate to be in possession of the bread that truly satisfies.
Reclaiming motherhood encompasses more than ensuring that our reproductive practices are ethical. It means proclaiming the beauty of the marital covenant as the wellspring of love that gives rise to a family and nurtures our children. It means preserving the unique contributions of masculinity and femininity in shaping a child’s identity. It means respecting the dignity of every woman and child, treating each individual as an end in himself and never merely the instrumental means to serve the will of another. It means keeping a firm grasp on those things that make us human. We must lift our voices to declare that progress must never be measured in purely scientific terms. Instead, our progress as a society is reflected in how well we love one another, ensuring that each member has the opportunity to experience full human flourishing.
It is on this point that the Church and our culture can still agree, and so this must be our point of departure: what is truly good for every member of our society should be the motivating force behind our moral decisions. Our society has been duped into thinking that this good lies in whatever each individual determines for himself. The reality is that we cannot flourish in such isolation. We were not made to. At the heart of every human person is not merely his own will, but the capacity and longing for relationship. Real happiness lies not in doing whatever we’d like, but in being what we were made to be.
As we examine emerging medical practices and social reconstructions in the following pages, let us bear these truths in mind. What makes us more loving, invites us deeper into community, and shapes us most clearly in the image of our Creator? Let the burning of these questions be the fire of the Holy Spirit blazing within us, enabling us to communicate truth that resonates in every human heart.
It is not too late. Now is a critical moment for women to embrace the good fruits of the Women’s Movement while rejecting those things that run contrary to our good and that threaten to further depersonalize us. It isn’t too late, but the clock is ticking. More is at stake in reclaiming motherhood than personal medical decisions. We must critically examine these practices and reflect on their implications so that we can use our prophetic voices to protect women and children from grave violations of their personhood.
If we don’t turn back the tide on these practices, we run the risk of being swept along by the currents of madness.
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