Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

When then-senator Obama said during the 2008 campaign that he feared his daughters might be ” punished with a baby ” if not properly schooled in contraceptive practices, he probably thought the statement would be regarded as self-evidently reasonable. Among some it might.

Obama’s public viewpoint on sex falls within what some call “lifestyle liberalism,” treating moral instruction on sex as private and strictly confining public instruction on it to limiting its undesired consequences (or punishments, if you like). As far as the state is concerned, the greatest fallout from a sexual mistake is not a lessening of innocence, self-worth, or ability to be faithful, but the creation of new life—the punishment a baby brings.

It’s not hard to see that this utilitiarian view of sex can lead one to an almost purely economic approach to sexual ethics. What costs me time, money, health, or mental anguish is a negative consequence of sex, and what does the opposite for me is good. Unfortunately, it’s hard to work out this calculus until after the deed is done.

Internalizing this view, and perhaps suffering “punishments” through trial and error, it’s further unsurprising that some people develop aversions to normally natural things—such as fertility and babies—especially when they prevent one from living the good life—or saving the environment.

This may explain Presdient Obama’s visible disbelief during a town hall meeting last Wednesday in Pennsylvania, when two audience members told him of their large families—one with seven children, the other with ten. The remarks came as Obama criticized owners of large SUVs and vans, implying they had only themselves to blame for high fuel costs.

Mention of the first large family induced in the President a surprised shrug and a smirk, and the second drew out an exasperated quip hinting at how sheltered Obama has been from an entire sector of American families:

It’s a great question.  Can I just ask before I answer, though, is there some rule at Gamesa that you got to have a whole bunch of kids? I mean, you got 10 over here, you got seven over here.  Golly.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles