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Population: the state and the Church

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  • Dn. Paul Samuel
    Population: the state and the Church Dr. Alexander Mathew THE HINDU: OPEN PAGE 08.01.2012 Sunday One of the recommendations of the Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer
    Message 1 of 2 , Jan 8, 2012
      Population: the state and the Church
      Dr. Alexander Mathew
      THE HINDU: OPEN PAGE 08.01.2012 Sunday

      One of the recommendations of the Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer Commission
      (on the Rights and Welfare of Women and Child) to the government of
      Kerala is to impose a fine of Rs.10,000 or imprisonment up to three
      months on those who exceed the two-child norm. This has come in for
      criticism from many quarters, based on secular arguments in defence of
      basic individual rights. But even those who oppose this recommendation
      cannot deny the fact that uncontrolled population explosion is a
      problem and that we are stretching the carrying capacity of the global
      ecosystem to the limit.

      While the aims of the Commission cannot be faulted, some of the
      methods advocated should cause worry to all those who are concerned
      about personal freedom. Besides, it is debatable whether some of the
      proposed measures are the best means to achieve such an end. The
      horrible memory of the forced sterilisation programmes during the
      Emergency of 1975 should be a reminder of the counter-productive
      consequences of such coercive methods.

      Easy access to safe and free birth-control methods, improved level of
      female education and a general increase in welfare have shown to lead
      to a reduction in population in many countries — Kerala being a good
      example. By using such nuanced incentives and disincentives like
      reducing subsidies after two children, the state can achieve the
      desired level of population growth without tampering with basic

      But the stance of the Kerala hierarchy of the Catholic Church in this
      debate is self-indulgent, divisive and parochial. It has not just
      limited its criticism to the harsh methods suggested by the
      Commission, but goes on to encourage its members to increase the
      number of their children. And it is even awarding prizes to parents
      with the maximum number of children and also raised a false alarm
      about its survival if the number of its members does not multiply fast.

      And by exhorting them to increase their population to fight the straw
      man of a potential ethnic cleansing, the church is indulging in
      unnecessary rhetoric and forgetting the consequences of such a policy
      if followed by all communities. If the teaching of the church is based
      on a Kantian notion of a categorical imperative — “acting only
      according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it
      should become a universal law” — it could be held responsible for the
      resulting Malthusian conundrum of massive population growth with all
      its dire consequences.

      But the Church need not unnecessarily burden itself with such
      conundrums. The teachings of the Church have progressed from the days
      of Augustinian asceticism as enunciated in the encyclical Casti
      Connubii (1930) to the encyclical Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI
      (1968), which allows birth control by the natural rhythm method as
      acceptable since it takes advantage of a faculty provided by nature.
      Humanae Vitae states: “If, then, there are serious motives to space
      out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions
      of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches
      that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms
      immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the
      infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without
      offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier [20].”

      Even though it reversed the normal priorities of moral reasoning by
      putting the sacrosanct mechanics of sex above the motive of the
      actors, Humanae Vitae allowed some space for birth control by natural
      methods. The Catholic hierarchy could have just objected to the
      proposed draconian measures and kept a dignified silence on the final
      aim of regulating birth which is allowed by Humanae Vitae . It need
      not have exhorted its members to multiply like the sands on the beach
      and the stars in the sky by giving prizes to those with maximum
      children, thus mocking at a national agenda which is almost
      universally desired. But it may be pertinent to note that the
      non-procreational pleasures of the sexual act have not escaped the
      attention of Catholic couples in Kerala and they indulge in them just
      like other couples all over the world, despite the feigned ignorance
      of their superiors.

      Dn. Paul
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