MADE THIS WAY
How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues
By Leila Miller and Trent Horn
Catholic Answers, 2018
249 pages, $16.95
To order: shop.catholic.com
or (888) 291-8000
This wonderful little book, written by Catholic parents for Catholic parents, has two aims: first, to educate parents in the basic tenets of the Church’s moral teaching on controversial issues related to sexuality; and, second, and more importantly, to offer assistance to them in communicating this message efficaciously to their “little kids” (pre-pubescent children) and “big kids” (teens). The authors sensibly begin with a chapter dedicated to the important concept of “natural law,” which is foundational for understanding the Church’s moral teaching. The authors’ main point is that humans are made with a specific nature and that they can know what kinds of actions comport with the flourishing of that nature, as well as those that lead to its demise and unfulfillment; actions, in the authors’ words to young children, “that make us sad.” Ten topical chapters follow on: sex outside of marriage, same-sex “marriage,” divorce, contraception, abortion, reproductive technologies, modesty, pornography, transgender identity and homosexuality.
Each begins with a concise catechetical treatment, generously supplemented with quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other ecclesial documents, as well as humorous personal anecdotes, and ends with two brief sections entitled, “Advice for Little Kids” and “Advice for Big Kids.” Each of these chapters deserves comment, but I will offer here only selective highlights.
The first highlight is surely the pilot chapter on sex outside of marriage. Here, the authors lucidly reaffirm the central, indeed all-determining principle of sexual ethics, the ancient and perennial Christian judgment that sex is for marriage and marriage is for procreation and spousal perfection (“babies and bonding”).
It follows that not only sex outside of marriage, but all sex acts, including between married persons, are assessed by this one all-embracing norm: Is this an act by which spouses are capable of forming a genuine two-in-one-flesh union? Does it preserve the two essential “meanings” of marriage, what Humanae Vitae refers to as “true love” and an “orientation to parenthood” (12)?
The authors have a rare facility for translating complicated concepts into language graspable by small children. For example, to begin to reinforce in little minds the connection between marriage and procreation, they offer the following hypothetical conversation: “Do you see Mommy’s tummy getting bigger? That’s your little baby brother or sister inside! This little one is safe and happy, nestled right up to Mommy’s heart! Isn’t it so beautiful that after Daddy and Mommy got married, God gave us babies to love? That is what makes marriage so special, and now we all can love one another forever, just like we love God and he loves us!”
On same-sex “marriage” (SSM), the authors are equally capable. They say that before we can discuss who should and shouldn’t be allowed to marry, we have to ask, “What is marriage?” If it is merely a relationship that celebrates “romantic love” between consenting adults, then SSM makes sense. But if it is a one-flesh relationship oriented toward procreation and parenthood, then “SSM is like a square circle — it’s a logical impossibility.”
Then why, the authors ask, are infertile couples able to get married since it doesn’t seem that their union is factually open to offspring? To answer this, the authors use a splendid analogy from baseball: “What makes a baseball team a baseball team is that the players are ordered toward the goal of winning baseball games. Yet even if they don’t win a single game, they are still a baseball team and can achieve goods like teamwork even if they don’t achieve victory. On the other hand, nine men hitting baseballs and catching pop flies for the fun of it may pursue goods like friendship, but they are not a baseball team. This isn’t because the nine guys haven’t won any games, it’s because the activity they’re engaged in isn’t ordered toward the goal of winning games. Likewise, the conjugal union between a man and a woman is the only union — the only game in town! — where two bodies become one in a function that can create new life. That unique union, even when not fertile, is the essential and indispensable element of marriage.” In other words, couples need to be able to engage in the kind of intercourse — one-flesh intercourse — that they would engage in together if they were hoping to generate a child by their act of intercourse. This is what Church teaching means when it refers to a sex act as “procreative in kind” or a “procreative type of act” (per se aptus ad prolis generationem; Canon 1061, 1).
When discussing abortion, the authors don’t shy away from hard cases such as when the life of a pregnant mother is at risk or when pregnancy is due to rape. They explain the irreplaceable moral maxim that a good end does not justify one in choosing an evil means to attain it. And they criticize what they refer to as the “murky philosophical discussion of ‘personhood’” engaged in by abortion-defending philosophers: “not a noble or nuanced search for what is true about the human person … [but] an excuse for one group of humans to dehumanize, oppress, and kill another group of humans.”
Of particular note is their advice for teaching teenagers by appealing to their innate sense of social justice:
“Remind them that, to be consistent, they must be pro-life on abortion, as it is always wrong for bigger and stronger groups of people to marginalize and kill smaller and weaker groups of people. … There is no class of human beings on the planet more vulnerable, voiceless, defenseless, marginalized and dehumanized than the unborn. Any cry of ‘Abortion liberates women!’ is undermined by the truth that abortion turns the ‘oppressed’ (women) into the oppressor. Pushing oppression down the line, as any warrior for justice can see, is not the solution for ending oppression.”
The chapter on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) lays out the traditional “assist-replace” model for assessing questions about the morality of particular types of fertility assistance: Does this or that procedure assist the husband and wife to engage in a fruitful act of intercourse, or does it replace the marital act?
The authors even note (in a footnote) that the magisterium has not rendered a definitive judgment on some widely used procedures. They might have added that in the absence of assistance from authority, couples considering such procedures have the responsibility themselves to assess the technologies in the light of moral truths that are known, and make a judgment they believe is most likely to be true about the morality of the ARTs in question, and then to allow that judgment to direct their actions.
Their section entitled “fun with polaroid cameras” sets forth a brilliantly clear understanding of why the unfamiliar appearance of human embryos is absolutely no argument whatsoever for subjecting them to mutilating and homicidal experimentation.
As a father of six, I especially appreciated their treatment of the difficult-to-teach subject of modesty, particularly their advice for teaching girls. Not only do the authors offer balanced guidance for both sexes, but they argue quite rightly that teenage girls need to develop not only a sense of modesty understood as nondisclosure, but also of modesty understood as a way of reverencing God’s gift of true feminine beauty: clothes that are beautiful, not merely that cloak one’s body.
There are many more positive things I could say about this book, but I want to end by offering two points of constructive criticism.
The authors use the term “rules” to refer to the moral truths taught by the Catholic Church. I fear this unintentionally will contribute to one of today’s great misunderstandings about morality, namely, the conceiving of the norms of the natural law as no more than rules imposed on us by authorities who have little understanding of our real needs. May I suggest that Catholics never refer to the requirements of the natural moral law as “rules,” but always as “moral truths,” since in the popular mind, rules are made to be broken.
The second is the claim that a life of holiness and virtue is necessarily conducive to happiness: “Stress to your child that … virtuous living will bring us great happiness!” This is by no means universal, and the assertion tends to alienate people to whom it does not apply. Abuse victims, chronic pain sufferers, those who endure severe mental illnesses, and many others, may suffer such an intractably chaotic experience of daily life — pain and blackness and sadness — that all experiences of happiness, even of felt peace, may be effectively excluded; and yet they may be in the center of God’s will.
E. Christian Brugger is the senior research fellow in ethics
at the Culture of Life Foundation.