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How the Pill Obscures God’s Truth in Creation

In summer 2016, a group of scientists published a new set of world maps. They didn’t chart new shipping routes or plot unknown parts of the deep sea. Instead, they depicted the world’s light pollution. The news wasn’t good. The maps showed that 80 percent of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way thanks to man-made light.

Artificial light is a blessing in many ways. But something is lost when we can no longer look up and see our galaxy. As the lead researcher explained, “Literature, religion, philosophy, science—of course—the arts, all have roots connected with the contemplation of the night sky. This is the first generation that grew up without the possibility to see our place in the universe.”

For a Christian, the problem is acute. It was the night sky that helped David recognize his place in the universe (Ps. 8:3–8) and it’s the heavens that “declare the glory of God” (19:1). What’s special about the stars is that they’re universal. Everyone on the planet can see them (v. 3; Rom. 10:18). You can’t say that about mountains, oceans, or the animal kingdom.

Light pollution changes this. Make no mistake, God is still sending the same message David heard. But we’ve obscured it with technology.

Noise in Our Differences

Like the heavens, our creation as male and female is part of God’s good creation. And like the heavens, our bodies speak. They tell us about ourselves (Prov. 19:13–14; 1 Pet. 3:7), about our place in the world (Gen. 1:27; Ps. 8), and about our redemption (Eph. 5:31–32). God’s revelation isn’t gender-neutral. But just as technology (electric light) has muffled God’s truth in the heavens, something similar has happened with the truth God is telling us in our maleness and femaleness.

Just as technology has muffled God’s truth in the heavens, something similar has happened with the truth God is telling us in our maleness and femaleness.

The main technology that obscures God’s truth in our sexual differences is oral contraception, approved by the FDA in 1960. The importance of oral contraception is reflected in its being the only medicine we refer to simply as “the Pill.”

This technology ushered in an era of unprecedented independence for women, allowing them to postpone childbearing and pursue education and full-time employment in increasing numbers. But it also severed the link between sex and procreation in the minds of entire generations. In doing so, it paved the way for no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, and today’s transgender movement with its neologisms like “pregnant person,” “chestfeeding,” and “people who menstruate.”

The Pill was able to do this because, as Mary Harrington writes, it “promised to flatten the most irreducible difference of all between the sexes: pregnancy.” Technology is pedagogy, and the Pill has reshaped our understanding of women’s fertility, making it more conceptually aligned with the way we think about men’s ability to engage in sex without necessarily considering procreation.

This history helps explain one of the most unexpected consequences of widespread contraceptive use: the dramatic rise in out-of-wedlock births. George Akerlof and Janet Yellen reported almost 30 years ago, “We have found that this rather sudden increase in the availability of both abortion and contraception—we call it a reproductive technology shock—is deeply implicated in the increase in out-of-wedlock births.”

Though many expected abortion and contraception to lead to fewer unwed mothers, a recent study confirms that “young couples today simply do not feel the need to marry when a baby enters the picture.” In 2014, 40 percent of U.S. children were born outside the protective confines of marriage, compared to just 5 percent in 1960. Whereas in the past, a young man felt social pressure to marry a girl he got pregnant, that sense of obligation diminished with the Pill. If a woman can control her “reproductive life” as the Pill promised, then how can a man be held accountable for her pregnancy? Men began to feel less responsibility for their sexual actions, just as many early women’s rights activists feared.

Where contraception fails, a man simply needs to convince his girlfriend to quietly abort. Likewise, a woman can have an abortion without the baby’s father’s consent and without even telling him.

Because Christians oppose abortion, we tend to think we’re immune to the Pill’s other effects. But we aren’t. Just as light pollution affects us all, so contraception clouds our Christian ability (and sometimes our desire) to see the splendor of our sexual differences. It’s easier than ever before to think of men and women as mostly interchangeable. Many of us do. We unwittingly make men the measure of women, whether in work or life or the church.

I fell prey to this way of thinking when my daughters were little. I’d sometimes ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up and then suggest all sorts of wonderful things like a teacher or writer or doctor. I came to realize I was suggesting everything except the one thing only a woman can be: a mom.

Clear the Air

Technology has a profound effect on the way we see the world. But we aren’t left helpless or hopeless. Just as there are still ways to see and appreciate the wonder of the heavens, so there are ways to see and appreciate the wonderful differences between male and female.

1. Start paying attention.

When I talk to Christians about the ways contraception has changed our view of men and women, they can’t quite believe that something they hardly think about could have such a profound effect. But hardly thinking about it is the problem. We need to think about it. Talk about it. Teach about it.

For too long, we Protestants have consoled ourselves by thinking contraception is a Catholic issue. This is naive. The Pill is, even by secular accounts, one of the most significant technologies in human history. We ignore its power to our peril. Whatever our view of the Pill’s moral status—whether we conclude it can be used responsibly or should be avoided—we cannot understand our cultural moment without understanding the changes introduced by these tiny tablets.

For too long, we Protestants have consoled ourselves by thinking contraception is a Catholic issue.

We should ask the four questions Marshall McLuhan posed of any new technology: What does it enhance? What does it make obsolete? What does it help us retrieve? What does it reverse or flip into when taken to an extreme?

We should also consider how our use of any technology—contraception included—reflects and affects our values. What is it that makes contraception seem like a necessity to so many young women today? Why have autonomy and self-sufficiency been elevated to such a high status today? How much have young people bought the lie that parenthood is a hindrance to their happiness rather than a major road to it?

All these questions are ways of getting at the question of values. What values are expressed in our use of contraception? Where might those values need to be revised in light of the goodness of creation—a goodness our technology has obscured?

2. Look again with wide-eyed wonder.

The Pill hasn’t changed the miracle of pregnancy or the painful triumph of giving birth. Tiny new image-bearers still come blinking into the world as they always have, full of potential.

Nor has romance lost its deep appeal. Sparks still fly when a man and woman are attracted to each other. All the charm, pain, and comedy of two very different creatures coming together makes for great stories. If rom-coms need a revival, it’s because they’ve become trite, not because they’ve exhausted the thrill of a good love story.

The Bible calls us to marvel at this aspect of creation. As the proverb says, “Three things are too wondrous for me; four I can’t understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship at sea, and the way of a man with a young woman” (Prov. 30:18–19, CSB).

The way a young man courts a girl is every bit as wonderful—and inexplicable—as the movement of an eagle in flight or a ship on the high seas. Lindsay Wilson captures the dynamic of this proverb when he writes, “Life is both hard to understand, yet a wonder to explore.” We might even say it’s so wonderful because it’s beyond our understanding.

We should proactively highlight and celebrate the wonder of God’s design. What if we told more stories that explore the beauty of our sexual differences? What if the reason our lists of male and female traits feel reductionistic isn’t because they’re prejudiced stereotypes but because the differences are bigger and more profound than any simple list can capture? Thinking of sexual differences in this way might lead us to better answers when someone tells us he or she was born in the “wrong body.”

Better Story

We should proactively highlight and celebrate the wonder of God’s design.

Contemporary culture often pitches a narrative of gender as a form of oppression, a burden to be thrown off, a hindrance of nature to be overcome by technology (not only contraceptive technology but hormones, gender-transition surgery, and so on).

Christians have a far better story to tell. It’s a story about God setting his glory above the heavens and making us in his image to reflect it. It’s a story about how the union of two opposites in marriage echoes the saving truth at the heart of the universe. What a privilege to be made male and female with all the blessings—and responsibilities—of each. Though modern technology affects our vision, the picture remains ours to see, to celebrate, and to proclaim.

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