Every age imagines that its own favorite capital vices are harmless.  Consider one of ours.  You know which one.  The one we say “doesn’t hurt anyone.”

We begin by separating sex from procreation.  Along one line of development, this innovation leads to the taking of innocent life, for since conception occurs anyway, we invent justifications for doing away with children; even infanticide is now widely accepted among medical ethicists.  Along another line of development, it leads to insensitivity to women, whom we expect to have male patterns of sexual response, and almost to prostitute themselves for male enjoyment.  Along still another, it disorders marriage, for the husband and wife no longer see themselves as long-range partners in turning the wheel of the generations.  Along yet another, it leads to the abuse of the children who are allowed to live, because live-in boyfriends tend to resent their girlfriends’ babies, and girlfriends are ambivalent about babies that their boyfriends did not father.

Especially among the comfortable, those children who are desired are more and more viewed as lifestyle enhancements rather than as expressions of hope for the future.  At the other end of the social order are poverty, because single women must provide for their children by themselves; adolescent violence, because male children grow up without a father’s influence; and venereal disease, because formerly rare infections spread rapidly through sexual contact.  In all social classes, there develops a Peter Pan attitude in which young men and women are afraid to grow up:  Partly because there seems less and less in prospect except toiling for money so that one can have fun when one is not toiling.  The blessing of Psalm 128:3, “your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table,” comes to seem, not an expression of a universal aspiration, but almost incomprehensible.

Eventually we come to hold our very nature in contempt, as illustrated by the author who declared some time ago in a family planning journal that pregnancy “may be defined as an illness” which “may be treated by evacuation of the uterine contents.”   One suspects that even this is not the end.  The progression from one thing to another is straightforward; if we do not see it, the reason can only be that we do not want to.