Reading Time: 4 minutes


Last week, I wrote about the crushing burden of fear and guilt about sex that women labor under in Orthodox Judaism. Taught to fear pleasure, to shun knowledge and to regard their own bodies as sinful vessels, they often end up in loveless and unhappy marriages, trapped by religious rules that bar them from happiness and affection.

But I don’t want to give the impression that Judaism is the only religion which has irrational, anti-humanistic rules about sex, and Catholicism has some uniquely horrifying examples. Here’s Crisis magazine, a Catholic outlet, on the “cohabitation epidemic“:

The intimate relationship choices of young adults today expose a culture that increasingly fails to appreciate moral norms and the inherent value and beauty of marriage.

The inherent value of marriage – as though marriage were always beneficial regardless of who chooses to enter into it or why. The article bemoans the fact that “only 40 percent of first-time cohabiters are married within three years”, as if this were necessarily a bad outcome. The reality is that cohabitation is good because it allows couples to test the waters: to judge their compatibility as romantic partners and to break off the relationship if it’s no longer making them happy, without the legal entanglements of marriage. If marriage-at-all-costs is your goal, you’ll want to push people into marriage regardless of the consequences. But if human well-being is your goal, you’ll want people to be together if and only if they’re sure of their compatibility, and the number of marriages will reflect that.

A comment on the article takes an even more extreme view, arguing that it’s good when people rush into marriage without reflection, because that results in unhappiness and misery, and these are good things because suffering brings people closer to salvation:

People should get married since, because marriage so often entails pain, hardship and misery, it has within it the potential for holiness, the development of virtue and the ultimate prize – the salvation of our souls since we cooperated with the grace of the Sacrament.

As horrifying as this sentiment is, this isn’t a purely theoretical idea. There are Catholics who are trapped in unhealthy and unhappy marriages, because the laws of their faith have put them in terrible dilemmas that have no solution. Witness this thread from Catholic Answers:

My wife and I are in a terrible situation. Let me start by saying that we are married in the Church and have 4 children. Each time my wife gets pregnant, she suffers from a condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG). Basically this condition constantly leaves her severely dehydrated and nauseous. She vomits several times a day, is unable to hold anything down to keep her and the baby nurished [sic]. We almost lost our second child in utero due to complications from this, and the symptoms have gotten worse with each pregnancy. The last one was so bad that she was bedridden and confined with IV/PIC lines and in home nursing care. She developed life threatening blood clots which put her life and our baby’s life in serious danger.

The bottom line with all this background is that there’s a good chance my wife and unborn baby could die if she gets pregnant again. NFP has not been an option because my wife has always had very irregular cycles… She is terrified of becoming pregnant again.

…My wife is demanding that I get a vasectomy. I mentioned to her that maybe we’re called to be abstinent, but she will not live her life in a sexless marriage. She said that she will divorce me if I do not comply. I am horrified to even consider this, as I know it is a grave sin, but the alternative is to allow my home to be broken and to damage my children because of it.

The poster fears that getting sterilized would be a mortal sin, which the other forum contributors agreed that it would be, and that if he went through with it he could wind up “spending an eternity in a very, very warm location”. They offered unhelpful advice: to pray and fast, to talk to a priest (to which the OP said, “I’ve talked to more than one priest already. None have understood the nature of my problem or even seemed to try”), or to just hope that his wife is being temporarily irrational and that she would change her mind. One respondent chillingly suggested, “We should prefer death to sin, even at the expense of losing those we love.”

The obvious solution here was for this man to get the vasectomy, which would keep his family together and prove to his wife that he cares for her health. But the brutal irrationality of Catholic religious rules doesn’t allow that, which puts him in an impossible dilemma. The only solution is the one his faith doesn’t permit.

It’s no wonder that so many ex-Catholics are rejecting these rules and the church along with it. They’re perceiving, correctly, that religious morality is irrational, hostile to human happiness, destructive to well-being. As in the case of Contraskeptic, the evangelical Christian in a very similar dilemma, we can’t help people who insist on abiding by these rules. But what we can do is show everyone else the high cost of doing so, and point out that for those who reject these senseless impediments, there’s a much better way.

Avatar photo

DAYLIGHT ATHEISM Adam Lee is an atheist author and speaker from New York City. His previously published books include "Daylight Atheism," "Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City," and most...