Condoms and Romance at Jezebel

My Genderal Interest column this week looks at condom use in long-term monogamous heterosexual relationships — and why (other than sensation) so many seem to feel that’s a bad thing. Excerpt:

When doing interviews for this story, I heard over and over again from married/monogamous women that they’d been encouraged by gynecologists and other health care providers to transition onto oral contraceptives or the IUD. “It was just assumed that I’d want to stop using condoms as soon as possible, and that it was only a question of finding the ideal replacement,” one married 32 year-old told me; “the doctor never considered the possibility that condoms might still be the best choice for me.”

Part of that assumption is rooted in the condom’s celebrated dual role as both contraceptive device and barrier against sexually transmitted infections. Of course, heterosexual monogamy holds out the promise of an end to the worry about the latter. As one 23 year-old woman I spoke to for this story told me, “condoms are what you use when you don’t fully trust the guy you’re with. Once you’ve both been tested and committed to being exclusive, you stop using them.” Numerous studies have borne out that perception that sexually active teens and adults alike rely much less on condoms once they move into committed relationships. “Too many people think that insisting on a condom symbolizes a lack of complete trust in a partner”, said Mia Herron, the director of marketing and communications for Sir Richard’s, a high-end condom company based in Boulder, Colorado. That sentiment seems widespread. “Having sex without a condom is a sign that you’re committed,” said a male student of mine, aged 20; “the first time you do it without one is almost as big a deal as the first time you have sex.”

Catching up with Bethany Patchin

Saturday’s “Beliefs” section in the New York Times features a story on Bethany Patchin, a wonderful friend of mine from Nashville.

As the Times story relates, Bethany began her writing career as a fierce but winsome teenage advocate for conservative Christian sexual values. Her first piece (at Boundless, the youth website for Focus on the Family), was a proud promise that she intended to save her virgin lips for her wedding day. One young man was so impressed with that article he started writing to her — and in time, became both the fortunate recipient of her first kiss and, not at all coincidentally, her husband.

Bethany and Sam Torode had four children and a book: Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception. Young, attractive, articulate and counter-cultural, the Torodes found themselves darlings of the religious right, which is how I first heard about them. Their book came out when I was in the brief throes of a flirtation with evangelicalism, and my rave review of Open Embrace represents a set of views that I’ve long since repudiated. (The internet preserves our intellectual embarrassments forever. It’s much worse than a topless picture in a bathroom mirror.)

After I checked out Open Embrace, I started reading her earlier work, and was so impressed (but not entirely convinced) by Bethany’s writing that I started assigning some of her Boundless pieces in my women’s studies class. Her work was grist for some tremendous discussions and debates.

Bethany and I started corresponding in late 2002. Though she’s fourteen years my junior, she was one of inspirations to start blogging, and the first person to whom I sent a draft of an article for a pre-pitch review. We stayed in touch for the next several years, even as we each started taking separate paths away from evangelical positions on faith and sexuality. We wrote more frequently as her marriage to Sam came to an end. Where she had once given me advice about books and articles, I was able to return the kindness about divorce and related topics.

I count Bethany as one of my favorite people in the whole world whom I’ve never met in real life. The same web that archives our indiscretions for posterity gives us the opportunity to make and sustain true friendship across vast distances. That’s a happy thing.

She’s got a powerful story to tell. (Agents and editors, take note.) And do check out the Times piece.

Honoring risk, honoring ourselves

I’ve got another piece up at Sir Richard’s Condom Company today: “From Oh, No to Oh, My!”

Excerpt:

People who insist on using condoms are sending a signal about how they value both themselves and their partners. They recognize the reality that sex is always risky – physically, emotionally, psychologically. That’s part of its appeal and its rush, and a huge part of what makes it so exciting.

There are risks from which we can easily protect ourselves, and those we can’t. We can’t put a condom on our hearts. (Would we want to?) But we can put them on our bodies to honor ourselves and the person we’re with. Using a condom willingly says “I care. As carried away as I might be, I never forget to take care of myself and of you.”

Don’t presume the Designer’s intent from the design: a long post on abortion, sexual ethics, and contraception in response to Jonalyn

Jonalyn Grace Fincher offers a long and nuanced (though unquestionably pro-life) Christian perspective on abortion and body sovereignty in this post entitled “Listening to Both Sides.” She links to and quotes from the post I wrote one week after Heloise’s birth: Pregnant women, personhood, and paternal reflections. She had some nice things to say about my piece, but took issue with the central thrust of my argument, which revolved around women’s right not to be forced to endure pain.

I wrote: Giving birth — whether by ceserean section or vaginally — hurts. The recovery hurts. That point is being driven home to me daily as I watch my wife recover. She considers the pain well worth it, well worth it because this baby was longed for and wanted. But we both shudder, more than ever now, at the thought of compelling a woman to go through this process against her will.

Jonalyn responds by noting that the real pain isn’t just in pregnancy and childbirth.

During pregnancy I slept long and well. I easily coordinated elaborate outfits with accessories and make-up. I worked out or spend hours reading and writing without leaking milk. Then I had a baby.

It’s not merely the pregnancy that women must count as a cost, it’s the life after the birth.

I believe more women would refuse an abortion if they could serve nine months and be done with it. It’s not the pain of the nine months; it is the idea of a life to be responsible for, to be guilty about, to wonder as to the painful, happy, fruitful or fruitless future of your offspring.

That’s right, I think. It’s certainly not an argument against the legal right to choose an abortion. My point was not that abortion should be legal solely so that women can avoid the discomfort of continuing a pregnancy, nor that it should be legal only so that a woman can avoid the pain of birthing. Indeed, I support abortion rights for precisely the reasons Jonalyn mentions: “the idea of a life to be responsible for, to be guilty about”, and so forth. Whatever moral arguments can be brought to bear on the issue, I believe the state has a clear interest in not compelling women to take up those particular burdens against their will. And while a birth parent can surrender a newborn for adoption, it is simply an unconscionable overask to insist that every pregnant woman unready for motherhood choose adoption.

Jonalyn’s views on sex are deeply traditional; like so much conservative Christian writing on sexuality these days, they resonate with the vocabulary of John Paul II’s odious “theology of the body”, with the insistence that sex be focused on sacrifice and radical openness to new life. Jonalyn writes:

My concern is that pro-choice advocates remain intent upon driving a wedge between procreation and sex. I don’t think this is appropriately human, nor that God created our bodies and souls to permanently cleave sex away from procreation.

For the religious right (a group of which Jonalyn appears to be a member, albeit a winsome and reflective one) sex that isn’t procreative, or sex with the use of contraception, is a rejection of self-evident natural law, a rejection of both the design and the Designer. I come from an alternative Christian tradition, one that honors what Marvin Ellison calls “erotic justice”, something I wrote about at length in this post. I wrote:

Our sexual desires are indeed powerful. They can easily be misdirected or warped. But they can, by God’s common grace, be used as an instrument for justice. More than that, our bodies can be used to worship the aspects of the divine we find in each other. In the old Anglican marriage ceremony, a husband and wife would pledge their lives to each other, saying “with my body I thee worship.” We are called to worship only that which is of God; blessedly, God is found in each of us. When we have sex that is grounded in justice, grounded in enthusiastic and mutual desire, we are engaged in an act of worship. Not every act of sex in marriage is an act of worship, as most married folks can attest. And sex outside of heterosexual marriage, can be deeply worshipful.

The purpose of lovemaking is not to make babies. Pregnancy is simply an ancillary and occasional consequence of one particular kind of sex. Folks who say that procreation and sex can never be separated are like those who say that the primary function of the tongue is to prevent us from choking on our food. It is true that one function of the tongue is to protect large chunks of dinner from being lodged in our throats. But our tongues are there to taste, and we taste both to discern what is rancid and to delight in what is pleasurable. Our tongues are also necessary for speech. And sexually, tongues can bring delight to others. The tongue has many uses, many purposes, all important, all wonderful. We cannot discern a single purpose behind the Designer’s design. It is hubris — poltiicised and pleasure-hating hubris — to suggest that we can.

I know how we made Heloise. I’m fairly certain I remember the specific night she was conceived. After years together as lovers, after still more years of all kinds of sex with all kinds of other people, my wife and I were ready and open to the possibility of conceiving a child. What we had worked assiduously to prevent was now something that we ardently sought. This wasn’t a contradiction, or a sign of hypocrisy. We were at a new season in our lives, emotionally and spiritually and financially equipped to be parents. Was the sex we had when we were trying to conceive different than the sex we had had when we weren’t? Of course it was. But we weren’t magically transformed into better people because after so many years of being sexually active humans, we were finally having intercourse to procreate.

Pleasure still mattered. The opportunity to worship the divine in each other still mattered. The fact that I wasn’t wearing a condom (always, for umpteen reasons, my favorite form of contraception) didn’t mean that I loved my wife anymore than the times I’d been inside her with one on. Sex made the daughter whom I love with all my heart. But as wonderful as she is, as wonderful as all the little darling babes of the world are, they are not the only reason, should not be the only reason, need not have anything to do with the reason why we bring our hands and mouths and genitals together with those of others.

As a husband, a father,a teacher, and a Christian, I know this as I know few other things.

Virtue coerced, or virtue chosen: on abortion, contraception, happiness, and Ross Douthat

Ross Douthat made waves last year when he joined the New York Times as a columnist. A social conservative, Douthat’s views are generally well to the right of both the paper’s editorial positions, as well as those of its star pundits such as Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman.

Today, Douthat wrestles with what must be an uncomfortable truth for any righty: “blue states” tend to have a better track record on family values than “red ones.” (For background, see this Pew report and this National Journal article). Douthat:

…from divorce rates to teen births, nearly every indicator of family life now varies dramatically by education, race, geography and income.

In a rare convergence, conservatives and liberals basically agree on how this happened. First, the sexual revolution overturned the old order of single-earner households, early marriages, and strong stigmas against divorce and unwed motherhood. In its aftermath, the professional classes found a new equilibrium. Today, couples with college and (especially) graduate degrees tend to cohabit early and marry late, delaying childbirth and raising smaller families than their parents, while enjoying low divorce rates and bearing relatively few children out of wedlock.

For the rest of the country, this comfortable equilibrium remains out of reach. In the underclass (black, white and Hispanic alike), intact families are now an endangered species. For middle America, the ideal of the two-parent family endures, but the reality is much more chaotic: early marriages coexist with frequent divorces, and the out-of-wedlock birth rate keeps inching upward.

Douthat and his allies are in a pickle. Clearly, the widespread availability of abortion and contraception have not led to the decline of those families whose members are most likely to support access to these two critical rights. The dichotomy is stark: those most likely to pay lip service to family values (and to vote Republican) are those whose personal choices are most at odds with those same values. Those most likely to delay having children — but to have children in wedlock — are those whose politics lean left. Even more simply, the evidence is stark that access to safe and legal abortion and effective methods of contraception have strengthened rather than weakened “traditional families”. What a painful conundrum for conservatives to confront!

To be clear, I don’t agree with Douthat that the rise in single-parent households is lamentable. The reality is more nuanced. To the extent that the rising numbers of babies born to unmarried women reflects the happy reality that the stigma against “illegitimacy” is waning, that’s cause for at least as much celebration as sorrow. To the extent that community networks and social programs can reduce women’s reliance on unstable or abusive male partners, this is also a good thing. (When it comes to understanding poor women’s choices about reproduction and marriage, there’s no better resource than the magisterial Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage , which I reviewed here.)

From the progressive perspective, marriage ought to be a choice rooted in mutual desire rather than a necessity rooted in desperation. Better fewer marriages, but happier ones — that’s a reasonable goal. And it’s a goal that, as Douthat notes, a fair number of “blue state” Americans have pursued successfully. But he suggests that the price of all of this stability and happiness has been too high:

Liberals sometimes argue that their preferred approach to family life reduces the need for abortion. In reality, it may depend on abortion to succeed. The teen pregnancy rate in blue Connecticut, for instance, is roughly identical to the teen pregnancy rate in red Montana. But in Connecticut, those pregnancies are half as likely to be carried to term. Over all, the abortion rate is twice as high in New York as in Texas and three times as high in Massachusetts as in Utah.

So it isn’t just contraception that delays childbearing in liberal states, and it isn’t just a foolish devotion to abstinence education that leads to teen births and hasty marriages in conservative America. It’s also a matter of how plausible an option abortion seems, both morally and practically, depending on who and where you are.

Shorter Douthat: you liberals may be healthier and wealthier and happier, but y’all had to kill your poor blessed babies to achieve these fine things, so you ought to feel ashamed of yourselves. Continue reading

Men killing women: maternal mortality, heterosexual desire, and the work of male transformation

Back to school with much work to be done.

After Friday’s post (immediately below) about male sexuality and its perceived dangers, I got an interesting email from blogger Erin Solaro. She wrote:

The reason male sexuality has been viewed as dangerous and yet at the same time men are supposed to push women has a great deal to do with biology, and no, I don’t mean that men have a higher sex drive than women…

…I mean that 1940 was the first time in America that the mythical average woman’s chance of dying in childbirth dipped below 1 in 100. (For black women, it was higher, about 3 times as high.) In modern Afghanistan, it’s about 1 in 7, which may be pretty close to the historic norm.

Until we understand that, we aren’t really going to understand why we think about men, women and sexuality the way we do.

It’s an interesting point. Any women’s history class must take into account the history of birth-related maternal and infant mortality. While it’s difficult to get accurate historic statistics, the 1 in 7 figure that Solaro cites for contemporary Afghanistan is probably lower than it was in many other time periods. It is generally assumed that until the 20th century, childbirth was the leading cause of death for all women of childbearing years; in some societies that maternal mortality rate may have reached 40%, while other medical historians prefer a lower figure of 1 in 4 or 1 in 5. Given that many women in the developing world still have half a dozen children or more, as they did in previous centuries, the overall risk is compounded by the sheer number of pregnancies carried to term.

Our cultural memory of this devastating toll is limited. We have a Mother’s Day, of course, but we have no public rituals to honor our countless female ancestors who died — quite literally — so that we could live. There is no Tomb of the Unknown Mother in Arlington, though more American women died from childbirth than male soldiers did in war for the first century and a half of our republic’s history. This legacy lives on best in fairy tales, replete with stories of single fathers (Beauty and the Beast) or wicked step-mothers (take your pick). When I ask my students what happened to Cinderella’s birth mother, it drives the point about maternal mortality home.

Whatever the exact figures, childbirth has probably killed more women than any other single cause in human history. Until very recently (a miracle two millenia ago in Palestine notwithstanding), the only possible cause for pregnancy was heterosexual intercourse. So if childbirth kills women, and sex causes pregnancy, then by the logical transitive property, heterosexual intercourse has been, not so indirectly, the most lethal of all human activities for one-half of the population. To put it even more bluntly, men have killed far more women by ejaculating inside of them than they have by any other method. Semen has killed more people than any other body fluid (and yet it is menstrual blood that is considered far more “unclean” in many Western traditions.) (This, by the way, is a good moment to note how absurd the argument is about AIDS being “God’s punishment for homosexuality.” Even if we were to assume that AIDS was primarily transmitted through same-sex sexual activity, the number of deaths globally from AIDS has not yet risen to the historic levels of those from childbirth. If God punishes by death those who engage in forbidden sexual activity, how then to explain that the leading cause of death for women for centuries was having intercourse with their own husbands?)

Very few, if any, men ever presumably sought to kill their wives or lovers through intercourse. But men did devise patriarchal power structures that forbade women from using contraception or from refusing sex to their husbands. From both a moral and a statistical standpoint, cultures that don’t allow women access to contraception — as well as the right to say “no” after marriage as well as before — are complicit in the death of countless millions of women. Of course, many women surely enjoyed sex despite the risks; many women surely longed for children even in the face of the grave dangers that attended pregnancy, labor, and delivery. All the more reason to honor the bravery and the sacrifice of those who fought for life against death on a battlefield far more lethal than those on which their husbands, fathers, and brothers struggled. Continue reading

“Poor girl”: Bristol Palin, and the chagrined pity of the right

My friends who self-describe as social conservatives are having a bad week. The chair of the Republican National Committee, Michael “Wait, what I meant to say was” Steele is in hot water again for apparently endorsing the pro-choice position on abortion. On Monday, President Obama eliminated Bush-era bans on federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. The new omnibus spending bill, signed yesterday, reduces funding for abstinence education and increases funding for contraception on campus. And the bitter cherry on this unhappy cupcake of a week for my right-wing friends is the announcement that Bristol Palin, the adolescent daughter of the former vice-presidential candidate, is not getting married after all to Levi Johnston, the lad who fathered her out-of-wedlock baby boy. Eliot was wrong; March is turning out to be the cruelest month for the socio-cons. (And at wit’s end, they’re now accusing dear Jessica Valenti of turning into Bridezilla, merely because the celebrated author and activist wants an egalitarian wedding.)

Here’s National Review columnist Lisa Schiffren on the Palin situation:

I certainly don’t know if they should have gotten married. You’d have thought so . . . even if it didn’t last forever. Better odds for the kid. If the parents didn’t like it, well, they should have thought about that when they were drinking and fooling around. But, as we all know, shotgun marriages lead to plenty of unhappiness, some of the time. And very young marriages have a lousy track record. So parents of the expecting teens are not willing to push. And maybe they are sometimes right. Still, the default position of the girl, left on her own with the baby, now in serious and immediate need of further education and a set of remunerative skills with which to support herself and Tripp, which will be harder to acquire with her maternal responsibilities, isn’t much of a happy picture either.

For all of the high-minded discussion of marriage policy on these pages and elsewhere, to me it looks very late. That train left a while ago. Even Corner readers, who will discuss choosing life vs. abortion, with endless passion, do not get so worked up about marriage. Which is why all I have to say is, “poor girl.”

You want to know why your side is losing the culture war, Lisa? Because of that last line (the bold emphasis is mine). If all you can do in the face of normal human frailty and adolescent impulse is mournfully shake your head and mutter “poor girl”, then yours is a movement whose race is run. I understand your frustration. She had all the advantages you want to foist on to the rest of America: two heterosexual Christian parents, an abundance of siblings, a first-class abstinence only education. Even after she and Levi “fell short of the mark”, they were offered a chance at redemption; they chose not to terminate the pregnancy and they promised to wed. Oh, how we love the narrative of the redeemed sinner, particularly when that sinner is a pretty white adolescent girl! But now the wedding is off, and one senses it might all have been a sham to advance mother Palin’s political career. Brave Bristol, in a moment of dangerous candor, remarked on national television (on Fox News, the Pravda of the right) that abstinence-only education was “unrealistic”, and her mother didn’t step in to correct her. No wonder, Lisa, you’re frustrated and at wit’s end.

On the other side, Lisa, some of us are having small episodes of intense schadenfreude, for which we ought to ask forgiveness. But once we’re done taking in the spectacle, most of us are going to say that we don’t think Bristol Palin is a “poor girl.” Not only is she still in a very privileged family, but she also lives in a society in which a great many young unwed mothers with fewer advantages than hers have ended up just fine. Only those who are rigidly committed to the notion that lifelong heterosexual marriage is the One Great Prophylaxis against all social decay would be so quick to predict doom for this young woman and her baby. But for those of us on the left, helping Bristol to raise little Tripp on her own is as much the responsibility of broader society as it is of the Palin clan. We’re pushing for a substantially expanded public sector, one which offers economic and educational support to women in Bristol’s position. We’re pushing for a world where not only is marriage for everyone who wants it, including same-sex couples, but also a choice that can be made without regard to financial necessity. We’re pushing for a world where Bristol can have access to excellent day care for Tripp, so that she can be a single mother and work on what you, Lisa, rightly call her “serious and immediate need for further education” while remaining confident that her son is cared for. We’re pushing for a world where men like Levi are encouraged to be involved in the lives of their children, but where women are not forced to choose between poverty on one hand and a marriage to a man they do not love on the other. The more robust the public institutions that provide care, the less the potential for young people to trap themselves into unhappy relationships for which they are unready and ill-prepared. This is at the heart of the progressive understanding of marriage: that is a bond of affection, a vehicle for personal transformation, and one particular venue in which to bring children into the world. But it ought not any longer — if it ever was — be the sine qua non of prosperity and opportunity.

I wish Bristol and Tripp and Levi nothing but the best. I’m glad that they are not getting married, since it seems that one or both of the two young adults isn’t ready to cross that bridge. I’m glad for the message that brave young Bristol sent on national television, when she spoke honestly of the hard work of being a mother to a new infant — and spoke even more honestly about the inefficacy of the abstinence-only curriculum which had been foisted upon her to no avail. To paraphrase Jeremiah, Bristol may be little more than a child, but she knows how to speak the truth. And in the face of the messy reality of that truth, as we come to the end of a hard week for those morality is rooted in a nostalgic longing for an age that never was, no wonder that even on their flagship blogs, their best writers can offer no more than a chagrined, rueful, and impotent “poor girl”.

Your words, Lisa, not ours.

Babies, family planning, environmental stewardship and the needs of the preborn: the real roots of the culture war

Regular readers know that I tend to discourage my conservative commenters from derailing threads by questioning the very suppositions on which this blog is based. This is a feminist blog, for example, and one which seeks to explore various things from a feminist perspective. This is not a place to question whether the feminist lens is an appropriate one through which to see the world; similarly, a Calvinist blog which seeks to offer a Calvinist perspective on current events is not the place to question the essential tenets of Calvinism. This is why I read quite a few very conservative blogs, but rarely — if ever — comment there. I’m interested in what is said, but since I reject the fundamental premises on which their worldview is based, I don’t think I have much to offer to the conversation. It would be like insisting on speaking Finnish to a group which prefers to dialogue in Thai.

That said, reading all these blogs, I’m increasingly convinced that the core of the split between social conservatives and progressives in this country revolves around not abortion or gay marriage, but a more fundamental disagreement: population. Religious conservatives have become increasingly vocal about their desire to see larger and larger families; indeed, their arguments against abortion and gay marriage seem less couched these days in an assumption that these are intrinsic evils, and more in the language of concern that these practices pose a threat to the large families which the right venerates above all else. Hostility to feminism is surely a sine qua non of contemporary social conservatism, but reading what the pundits on the other side have to say, it seems more and more obvious that their hatred of feminism is rooted in the recognition that increased sovereignty for women over their own bodies is inextricably linked with the reasonable desire to not have, in Amanda Marcotte’s happy phrase, their “vaginas turn into clown cars.”

Feminists and environmentalists have formed common cause over the vital issue of family planning. Those who believe that the world’s resources are already over-taxed by humans whose behavior is frequently parasitic have allies in those who believe that women can and should be encouraged to find fulfillment in pursuits other than motherhood. The longer women wait to marry or reproduce, the less likely they are to have large families; the more opportunities we can create for women to pursue happiness outside the home, the greater the likelihood they will delay marriage and childbirth. The intersection of sound environmental policy and the campaign to give women the precious right of personal autonomy is a fortuitous one indeed! And almost to a man and woman, social conservatives despise this alliance, one which is changing family structures across the western world — and increasing the possibility for greater happiness for the earth and its creatures.

Here, replete with grammatical error on top of grammatical error, is a piece by David Goldman in First Things: What Should Conservatives do about Obamanomics? It takes the “we must have big families” argument to a new level, by suggesting that the collapse of the real estate bubble is due — wait for it, can you guess? — to, yes, birth control:

The first thing that conservatives have to tell Americans is: “You are poorer because you failed to bring up enough children. The decline of the traditional family is undermining the American economy.”

Right. Apparently, that’s why the countries with the highest birth rates, like Sierra Leone and Chad are so rich, and countries with among the lowest, like Sweden and Switzerland, are so desperately poor?

This isn’t the place to point out the risible foundations of the “we must have more babies or the world will collapse” argument. Plenty of economists have pointed out that the “growth” model can be replaced by a healthy “sustainability” model. The transition may be wrenching, but far less so than the apocalyptic impact on our planet of ever-growing voracious human appetites.

What I’m wondering — to get to the point of this post — is why religious conservatives are so eager to have large families? I get the economic argument (we need more future workers to maintain retired ones), but the churches were urging their flocks to “be fruitful and multiply” long before anyone thought up modern pension schemes, or modern feminism. Beyond the instinct to reproduce and survive, what are the theological roots of this obsession with making babies?

I know my Mormon friends believe, or so they tell me, that there are countless billions of “pre-born souls” wandering around up in the ether, each longing to be born. Thus, having a large family is an act not of irresponsibility but of self-sacrifice: parents give up their freedom in exchange for the satisfaction of helping as many of these pre-born souls as possible become incarnate. (My LDS friends, please tell me if I’ve misrepresented the idea.) Some of my friends in the Kabbalah Centre believe that in the Beginning, God created a “vessel” which then shattered into trillions of tiny sparks. Each of these sparks is a sentient soul, and each longs to be born into human flesh for the sake of reassembling the broken vessel and completing what in Hebrew is called tikkun olam, the repair of the world. Thus for Mormons and Kabbalists, family size limitation is selfish on an eschatalogical level — it delays the final redemption and robs the “pre-born” (the term sends chills down my spine) of their shot at participating in the glories of incarnation. Continue reading