TORONTO – The clash between the contraception mentality’s “culture of death” and the respect for life position embraced by traditional Christian theology was the focus of a one-day seminar November 8 at St. Michael’s College of the University of Toronto.

The seminar, The Culture of Life vs. The Culture of Death, attracted nearly 100 participants and touched on many issues of concern to pro-life, pro-family supporters, including human sexuality, overpopulation, and euthanasia.

The “culture of death” is a phrase originating with Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). It warned of the many new threats to human life posed by abortion, euthanasia, and “a widespread conditioning (which) finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life.”

Changing attitudes

Presenter Dr. Walter Godsoe, a supporter of Campaign Life Coalition, opened the seminar by discussing on the changing attitudes on the human person. He suggested that secular values such as competition and materialism have distorted the community-based view of humanity.

St. Michael’s College doctoral student Leigh Anne Jerz reflected on overpopulation myths, and later spoke on the contraception culture’s distorted view of human sexuality.

Jerz said mankind is not threatened by overpopulation despite the dire claims and predictions of family planning advocates and international population controllers. Using statistics from various sources, Jerz pointed out that declining fertility rates, aging populations and the inefficient distribution of resources pose a greater risk to economic stability than population increase.

This view of humanity as a threat to itself has been the basis of increasing tension between pro-life, pro-family organizations and United Nations officials at the population conferences throughout the 1990s.

The Vatican’s opposition to population control measures, for example, has been strongly opposed by U.N. bureaucrats and international development workers who often impose family planning and sterilization programs on Third World countries as a precondition for receiving foreign aid.

“We’re not in a crisis situation in terms of population,” Jerz said. “In some cases, I used the United Nations’ own statistics to show the difference between a healthy population, as in the Philippines, and the Swedish model, where fertility rate is below replacement levels.”

The 1968 Vatican encyclical Humanae Vitae, Jerz said, has proven prophetic in warning of the diminished respect for life and human sexuality when society embraces a contraception attitude. She said the years 1965-1975, when contraception was most aggressively promoted in North American society, coincided with skyrocketing divorce and unwanted pregnancy rates.

“In many ways, the social ills contraception was supposed to remedy have been made much worse,” she said.

Jerz offered three central reasons for the Christianity’s rejection of contraception: it damages the physical and psychological makeup of women, it destroys the self-giving model of spousal love, and it rejects God as the creator of new life.

The final component of the seminar centred on euthanasia and capital punishment. Drawing on his experience as a CBC journalist and broadcaster, Kevin Trudell offered an overview of the push for euthanasia, citing the situation in Holland as the worst case scenario. Euthanasia is illegal in Holland but increasing numbers of Dutch doctors are avoiding persecution for bringing about the deaths of terminally ill patients.

In discussing the death penalty, Trudell re-affirmed church teaching that capital punishment is justified only when society has no other means of protecting itself from violent offenders.

‘Not confrontational’

“The information presented at the seminar was in no way confrontational,” Trudell told The Interim. “We weren’t calling people who support the contraceptive mentality evil or immoral. Instead we outlined the Catholic Church position on life issues and explained why we endorse that position.”

Students attending the Culture of Life/Culture of Death seminar appreciated having life-affirming arguments put forward in a clear manner.

Sarah Byers, a PhD philosophy student at St. Michael’s College, said the conference helped to reflect on the Christian understanding of human happiness. “The conference provided clear, reasonable and practical analysis of how to love God and one another in our parenthood, sexuality, care of the elderly, sick and the unborn,” she told The Interim.

Seminar sponsors included the Newman Centre, the St. Thomas More Lawyers Guild, U of T Students for Life, the St. Michael’s College Students’ Union, the Joseph Moscati Catholic Doctors’ Guild, and the college’s Christianity and Culture Club.