Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization: A Critique – Chapter I

Christians generally seem to evidence a certain uneasiness about whether or not they should use birth control. At least, that is what I’ve noticed when the topic’s come up in my presence. Most people I’ve talked to will acknowledge some difficulty in discerning God’s will; however, they almost always end up choosing to use birth control in spite of those initial misgivings. This they did, not by conducting a thorough study of God’s word on the topic, but by watching a few YouTube videos, reading a few blogs, talking to a few people, and praying for a “feeling of peace” or a “sense of conviction.” And almost never do they research the roots of the prevailing philosophy of our day in regard to birth control. They seem to be ignorant of how the whole modern birth control movement began; and sadly, it seems they prefer it that way. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, and Christians seem to prefer convenience over truth.

I would love for that to change.

Whenever I have the chance, I always encourage other believers to read the Bible through again (how many have even read it through once?), jotting down every single mention of God’s design for sex, conception, and families. I guarantee them that there are literally hundreds of references that will contradict everything our culture has taught us to believe about the subject. I doubt they listen to me. It’s easier to absorb a few verses taken out of context in an article than to reread the entire Bible. However, there are those few who do, and who have . . . It is my hope that our combined efforts to uphold the truth about this in our homes and in the church will be blessed by God and bear much fruit.

For researching the roots of the modern birth control movement, a good starting place is Birth Control: How Did We Get Here, a DVD documentary which covers how birth control became accepted in our culture and in the Church. Their website advertises the movie by saying:

“Follow the film’s chronological timeline from Creation to the late 20th-Century and learn how the reinterpretation of Scripture and rejection of Church history has allowed child prevention to become acceptable biblical theology.”

I have read several books on the history of the modern birth control movement, among them Outlawed! How Anthony Comstock Fought & Won the Purity of a Nation (also available through the same site that sells the documentary), The Bible and Birth Control, and Birth Control and Christian Discipleship (advocates Natural Family Planning, which I disagree with, but does give a brief overview of how birth control came to be accepted in the Church during the 20th Century). All of these books were written from a Christian perspective. However, for the first time ever, I have started researching this issue using primary source information from the other side, the Non-Christian side. I have begun my study with Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization (1922), a book she wrote detailing her view of the centrality of birth control to society’s uphill progress (I did say her view, not mine). Margaret Sanger founded The American Birth Control League, which was later renamed Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

I invite you to read the book yourself so you can follow along with me. This week covers Chapter One. Ready?

Let’s start with the title of Chapter I: A New Truth Emerges. Right from the start, I can’t help but be skeptical: a NEW truth? Is there such a thing? If truth is truth, it can’t be new; it must be something that endures forever, something solid and unmovable. And what does she suggest is this new truth?

“The programme for Birth Control . . . aims, rather, to awaken responsibility, to answer the demand for a scientific means by which and through which each human life may be SELF-DIRECTED and SELF-CONTROLLED. The exponent of Birth Control, in short, is convinced that social regeneration, no less than individual regeneration, must come from WITHIN. . . Not until the parents of this world are given control over their reproductive faculties will it be possible to improve the quality of the generations of the future, or even to maintain civilization at its present level. Only when given intelligent mastery of the procreative powers can the great mass of humanity be aroused to a realization of responsibility of parenthood. . . An idealistic code of sexual ethics, IMPOSED FROM ABOVE, a set of rules devised by high-minded theorists who fail to take into account the living conditions and desires of the masses, can never be of the slightest value in effecting changes in the customs of the people.” [emphasis added]

Change, whether individual or of the entire society, she says, “must come from within.” She aims to find a way for each human life to be “self-directed and self-controlled.” Furthermore, she claims that “an idealistic code of sexual ethics, imposed from above . . . can never be of the slightest value in effecting changes.” Clearly, she approaches this subject from a purely humanistic perspective, with no attempt whatsoever to understand God’s perspective. Conversely, the biblical perspective acknowledges and accepts God’s imposition of a code of sexual ethics upon His creation.  According to the Bible, if we want to effect changes in society, the answer does not come from within, it comes from without. In other words, we can never be our own saviors, we must look to God for salvation; and, if we want His help, we must do things His way. However, she does not acknowledge this:

“As currently constituted, Church, Press, Education seem to-day organized to exploit the ignorance and the prejudices of the masses, rather than to light their way to SELF-SALVATION.” [emphasis added]

Notice that she thinks it necessary for us to have “intelligent mastery of the procreative powers” (first quotation), stating elsewhere in the chapter, “That other phase was the driving power of instinct, a power uncontrolled and unnoticed. The great fundamental instinct of sex expressing itself in these ever-growing broods . . .  I was driven to ask whether this urging power of sex, this deep instinct, was not at least partially responsible, along with industrial injustice, for the widespread misery of the world.” Chapter One opened by stating: “My aim has been to emphasize, by use of concrete and challenging examples and neglected facts, the need of a NEW approach to individual and social problems. Its central challenge is that civilization, in any true sense of the word, is based upon the control and guidance of the great natural instinct of Sex. Mastery of this force is possible ONLY through the instrument of Birth Control.” [emphasis added]

This outlook may at first glance seem to be based on common sense; yet, there is something deeply wrong with it. What would that be? Namely, that she fails to mention where this instinct for sex came from. God made sex, and yes, He made it to be extremely powerful. However, God never, NEVER, tells us in His Word to control conception by using birth control methods (I advise you to look it up yourself). Instead, His prescribed way of handling this enormous instinctual drive is to . . . marry:

“But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

1 Corinthians 7:8-9

The biblical solution to the overwhelming passion for sex is to marry, pure and simple. The answer is not to masturbate; it is not to look at porn; it is not to “live with each other”; and, it is not to have sex but use birth control (not even mentioned!). It is to marry; and it is to be expected that within marriage, this should naturally lead to children. God never says there is anything wrong with that; in fact, it was His design for sex all along:

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 1:27-28

I would point out that God did not say when the earth would be “full”; He simply said to fill it (obviously, He’s not concerned about over-population). His design for marriage was procreation, and it also involved a joint effort at subduing the earth, of having dominion. Obviously, our children, if raised properly, would be of great assistance in fulfilling that goal of dominating the earth.

Let’s look at another, highly-illustrative verse:

Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

1 Corinthians 7:2-5

Again, the solution for a lack of self control is not to use birth control: it is to have your own spouse. And being married, God says not to deprive each other, but to come together. The ONLY reason to not come together (and it’s not Natural Family Planning!) is so that “you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer.” God provided a way for us to deal with our “lack of self-control,” and it’s called marriage. Married couples are supposed to have lots of sex! There is nothing at all wrong with that; God does not expect us to have “control” over sex within marriage, since the very purpose of marriage is to create an outlet for our lack of self control!

I should point out that even within marriage, however, there are a few limitations given in the Bible, such as

  1. Not having unnatural sex (no anal or oral sex) [this should be obvious, just by observing God’s design for our bodies: He gave us reproductive organs for the clear purpose of having sex, and this does not include the mouth, which is for eating food, or the anus, which is for eliminating waste from the body].
  2. Not spilling the man’s seed during sex, either through oral sex, withdrawal, or masturbation (or use of a condom) [see Genesis 38; Leviticus 15:16-18].
  3. Not having sex during the woman’s time of menstruation [Leviticus 15:19-30; 18:19; 20:18] and for a certain period of time after a baby is born [Leviticus 12].

However, barring those examples, couples are expected to be abundantly affectionate with each other, for the marriage bed is undefiled:

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Hebrews 13:4

To conclude, then, it is apparent right from the outset that Margaret Sanger is not even trying to approach society’s problems from a biblical viewpoint; she is using man’s “wisdom.” The tension here is one between contrasting worldviews: the biblical worldview and a humanistic worldview; salvation from God versus our own, SELF-salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. SusanneT

    It is frankly so simple Our Lord designed us – men and women to marry and in marriage to join him in making children.

    It is so simple as he made us and so obviously sinful when we do not follow his wishes. Birth Control is so clearly un-natural, so clearly sinful and so obviously against his plan for marriage.

    1. Post
      Author
      Jessica Roldan

      You are definitely right, Susanne!
      Margaret Sanger is approaching this topic from an evolutionary standpoint, so “God’s design” doesn’t matter to her.
      However, for the Christian, this issue SHOULD BE abundantly clear, as you say. And, if it is not, it is not that God’s Word doesn’t address it; it is that people are too hard-hearted (sad, but true) to allow themselves to see it.

  2. Ruth

    The ONLY way to make ‘things’ in life work out for all human beeings is to live in Gods ways.
    Any other, in this case humanistic) approach to solve problems will only arise more problems.
    Often Problems no (wo-)man could ever have forseen.

    1. Post
      Author
      Jessica Roldan

      Right, Ruth!
      In this case, Margaret Sanger thought that birth control would be the answer to society’s problems (therefore the name of the book); however, she did not foresee the incredible host of problems that birth control itself CREATED (rampant promiscuity, the problem of population *decline*, perversion of sex, abortion, etc.)! About 100 years later, we have the advantage of hindsight to see the fruit of this “solution.” And, didn’t Jesus say we would “know them by their fruit”? Sometimes fruit takes a while to manifest itself, but when it does, it shows the TRUE nature of the so-called “solution” (that it is evil and comes from the devil).

      1. SusanneT

        Whilst from a Biblical Christian perspective it is quite clear that birth control is always and inherently sinful. To be fair to a secular writer advocating contraception nearly 100 years ago it must have been difficult in what was then still a society based on Christian morality to anticipate the catastrophic moral decline that would flow from it. Quite possibly they did not foresee the rampant promiscuity, the perversion of gender and of sex, the widespread acceptance of abortion, etc. But as Ruth rightly says “The ONLY way to make ‘things’ in life work out for all human beings is to live in God’s ways”.

        1. Post
          Author
          Jessica Roldan

          Yes, Susanne, I agree!
          There is no “new” truth that can improve life for any of us; we must depend upon the “old” truth of God’s timeless Word. Non-Christians (even those living in a society still based on Christian morality, as Margaret Sanger was 100 years ago), cannot accept this. They see a rigid clinging to the Bible as something stale, dry, unrealistic, and stupid. However, what is stupid is to ignore what the Creator of the universe has told is the right way of doing things.
          Jessica

  3. SusanneT

    What is so apparent is the evil which flows to both individuals and society when women go against God’s design for them and are even encouraged to sin.

  4. Ruth

    I’ve just been browsing trough a pro life brochure i get:
    Swiss statistic 2016:

    -births, 87′ 883
    -reported abortions, 10’256

    Translate: Every EIGHT child gets killed in it’s mothers womb.

    Not in the statistic are all the tousand’s of ‘unneeded’ embrios produced trough reproduction methods.
    Where has our Society come too.
    Despite all our glorious Family planning possibilities.

    May God have mercy.

  5. Diana J.

    Hi, Jessica! Thanks so much for writing this. My one reservation about naming our first girl Margaret was a repulsion of doing anything connected with this horrible woman. Margaret Sanger was so sweet-looking in videos, but the evil that she promoted has perpetuated horrors that put Hitler to shame. More children have died hideous deaths, or not been conceived at all, due to her work, than to anyone else in the history of man (though many were complicit).

    This all goes to show a principle that I have seen repeatedly – sin, in the beginning, always looks innocent and cute, even compassionate. Such as: “Why would we want to force poor women to bear a rapist’s baby?” Or: “Why would we want women tied to abusive husbands? Let’s legalize no-fault divorce!” Or: “Large families are so stressful, let’s have mercy on these poor women and legalize family planning!” The motives always look deceptively pure, until one works out the logical consequences, which are often horrific. This is why it’s SO important to go by pure obedience to the Bible, rather than trying to deviate in one’s own wisdom. In any society, it is usually only the visionaries who stand and say, “Look, HERE is where we are going if we go down that road” – and then those visionaries are always systematically ignored by the populace, who do indeed go down the very road that the visionaries predicted, and are always surprised by it. “We never thought that abortion would happen if we legalized birth control! Who would have thought?” Or, more commonly, they don’t even recognize or acknowledge the link. Most Christians today have no idea that birth control is the initiating factor in the legalization of abortion, and would even fight the idea – because that would judge their actions (of using birth control) as wrong.

    Sorry if that was disjointed – writing in a hurry!! Thanks for addressing this, as always!
    Diana

    P.S. I hope you’re feeling better!!!!

    1. Post
      Author
      Jessica Roldan

      Thank you, Diana — yes, I am feeling better — little by little!

      I really enjoyed reading your well-thought-out comment, and agree with every point! Not disjointed at all!

      My older children and I have started reading Ezekiel together, and it is so interesting to note how even after being brought into captivity, Israel was still rebellious and unwilling to listen. You would think they would see the fruit of their choices (disobeying God and then being destroyed by an enemy) and think to themselves: “It’s our own fault we are where we are — we should repent.” But no. Even after God’s attempts at correcting them, they obstinately refused (many of them, though not all) to repent. I think that is just what we are seeing today — just the sort of thing that illustrates what you brought up.

      Abortion — the fruit of the contraceptive mentality — is rampant, and Christians refuse to connect two and two together; they refuse to acknowledge OUR part in this national crisis. But, God is calling us to repent. While many prefer blindness, there are a few who have responded to the truth. I know we both long for there to be more. Certainly, this is a *spiritual* war and requires much prayer.

      Jessica

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