K.V. Turley writes from London.
Coming in this 50th anniversary year of Humane Vitae a new documentary Sexual Revolution: 50 Years Since Humanae Vitae examines the encyclical’s continuing prophetic witness and exposes the hidden motives of money and eugenics that lie behind the promotion of the chemical cocktail that fuelled the sexual revolution, namely, the contraceptive pill.
Sexual Revolution is a well-made, thought-provoking documentary. It has a stellar list of contributors including Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, Dr. Peter Kreeft , Mary Eberstadt, Christopher West, Abby Johnson, Dr. Janet Smith, alongside archive footage of Drs. John & Evelyn Billings and St. Mother Teresa. The film traces the personal history of a young woman’s search for the truth about human sexuality, but it is also a social history, a secret history if you like, of much that is wrong in our society.
In the opening shots of Sexual Revolution, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had stumbled into the wrong movie. A beautiful young woman, Alana Newman, dressed as if she was on her way to or from Woodstock, is driving a Volkswagen camper van. It all looks very 1960s. In fact, this young woman has a troubling secret that has propelled her on a journey for which no camper van alone could provide transport. As the film recounts, Newman’s journey became one of discovery that led her unexpectedly to the Catholic faith.
An only child, Newman was brought up by her mother. As a child she was told she “had no father.” She did, of course, have a father but his identity was unknown. As it transpired, the child’s mother had gone to a fertility clinic to achieve conception. Newman grew up wondering about her father. She felt that a part of her personal history was missing. She asked her mother questions about her father but these drew a blank. Her mother knew nothing more than the name of the clinic – now long since closed.
Then, one day, Newman took a call from her mother. She had found a piece of paper in a long-forgotten drawer. The paper mentioned “the donor.” There was no name, but there was a nationality: Polish. This shred of information that her mother gave her revolutionized how Newman saw herself. Now at least her father and through him she, too, had an ethnicity, a definite connection with a country and its heritage. The discovery set her off on a quest that was to have unforeseen consequences.
At the time, Newman knew very little about Poland. But one thing, or more particularly, one person, she did know of, if only by name. That person was Pope John Paul II. Newman set about reading everything written by the late pontiff; soon she was devouring every word of the Theology of the Body. It changed her life. She could see that in these writings there was a truth about human sexuality and the human condition that had been obscured if not wholly rejected by the world around her. Eventually, she became a Catholic.
For Newman, reading John Paul II was never simply an academic inquiry. Not knowing her father, together with the manner in which she had been conceived, had left its mark upon her. She felt not only a sense of incompleteness but also a deep pain. It was through the writings of Pope John Paul II that Newman began to make sense of the feelings and questions that had plagued her for years.
The film explores this sense of loss felt by children born via anonymous donors. It is a subject largely ignored by those caught up in the current fashion for, and profitable business of “fertility treatments” and “designer babies.” The choices made by Newman’s parents: one to have a child; one to enable the process presumably in return for remuneration – illustrate how many do not consider the repercussions of such “transactions” on the lives of the children who they will conceive in this way. In the writings of a 20th century Polish Pope and later saint, Newman found the key to larger existential questions around her conception that had caused her such anguish. In the end, her reading brought about a happy resolution. As she says: in her quest to find her biological father, she found a spiritual “father.” He was also Polish, a man who had once lived in Rome.
Sexual Revolution is not just a personal memoir. It is more than that. In the second half of the film, Newman turns away from recounting her personal quest and instead begins to explore the history of how she ended up being born in the manner she was. She starts with the origin of the single factor that has brought about so much that is wrong in our society, namely, the contraceptive pill. The film suggests that the source of many of society’s woes, personal and spiritual, are linked to this pill and continue to increase in direct proportion to its ever growing use.
That said, the film is not a sterile lament. Running parallel to the story of the poison inserted into our world via the contraceptive pill there is another narrative telling of the discovery and promotion of the Billings Method, a natural form of fertility awareness of the manner in which the female body works with its cycles of fertility. The film also demonstrates one thing: that the pill has made a lot of money for a few, irrespective of the costs of the women who take it.
Advent and Christmas seem the right time to watch this film. The key to these seasons is the image of a Child – forming in His mother’s womb, and then an Infant newly born. What Sexual Revolution explores is not just the 1960s Sexual Revolution so much as an ongoing war on women and their fertility, and, indirectly, on the children born through the new “revolutionary” means.
Sexual Revolution is a sad indictment of where we have come to, and a frightening indication of where we are heading. Those in the Church who foolishly advocate rejecting the truths of Humane Vitae and, instead, press for the Church to embrace the sterile new world order witnessed all around, would do well to take stock and remember the words of Hilaire Belloc: that the Church and the truth she proclaims provide the only true home to humanity, not just a home but also a refuge from all that would harm it, and that “within that household the human spirit has roof and hearth. Outside it, is the Night.”