Rather Than Global Warming, Worry about Wormwood
Several years ago an article appeared in the Washington Post, of all places, on the history of contraception. The writer reported that wormwood—a kind of herbal derivative—was used as a contraceptive by the ancients. (The story came to mind after reading George Sim Johnston’s column some time ago in The Catholic Thing reminding us of Saint Paul’s condemnation of “sorcery” in the Epistle to the Galatians, a condemnation that arguably includes magical potions used for the prevention of conception.)
A quick Internet search confirms that “wormwood” was employed as a potion for “medical” purposes. But this “medicine” was not for healing; it was used for destruction. The ancient medical writer Soranus described how wormwood in conjunction with other substances could be used for contraception as well as for inducing abortion. Additional internet searches reveal that even today wormwood extract is available from herbal pharmacies as a “natural” form of contraception.
The “evil” of wormwood appears in multiple places throughout the Bible:
- “Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts concerning the prophets, ‘Behold, I am going to feed them wormwood and make them drink poisonous water, for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land.’“ (Jer. 23:15).
- “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey. And smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov. 5:3).
- “But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (Amos 6:12)
Perhaps the most disturbing reference to wormwood is found in the Book of Revelation, in the context of the end times. The dread Seventh Seal promises this punishment: “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” (Rev. 8:10) Connecting the biblical dots, is the reference to Wormwood in the Book of Revelation a veiled reference to poisonous contraceptive drugs, arguably referred to by Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians? An answer to that question might be gleaned from an unexpected quarter.
One of the most important industries in the world today is wastewater treatment. Every year, billions are spent on municipal and commercial wastewater processing plants as well as mini-homeowner septic systems. A friend knowledgeable and prominent in the business says that ordinary wastewater treatment, while technologically advanced and very effective, does not remove all of the pharmaceutical residue from the recycled water supply. In view of the massive amount of drugs processed and flushed every year, the very safety of our water supply could be in question.
Of course the danger posed by pharmaceutical residues in our water supply—including, presumably, considerable doses of contraceptive drugs—is a topic for inquiry and rigorous scientific analysis. Depending upon the scientific results, we may be faced with a danger to humanity of immense proportions. As scientists search for the causes of the uptick in the incidence of autism and widespread infertility (as well as the genetic deformation of fish and inexplicable fish kills in our waterways) the real problem might be found in ground water polluted by contraceptive and other drugs. If so, forget global warming and its questionable science. But will the pro-contraceptive ideology at the highest levels of government allow a serious and honest scientific inquiry? When it comes to sex, demonstrably apocalyptic arguments for restraint seldom persuade.
A hundred years ago before the technological development of the contraceptive pill, all forms of contraception were viewed, culturally, as shameful and degrading. Over the last 50 years the pendulum has swung and the topic has become taboo for politicians and churchmen alike. Comparisons with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s are instructive. AIDS initially stalled the sexual revolution and gay bathhouses were temporarily closed even in the most gay-friendly cities. But with the contraceptive mentality firmly entrenched (homosexual activity is the ultimate in contraceptive sex), those suffering from behavior-related AIDS soon claimed—and quickly received—victim status. Any calls to change immoral behavior were muted with widespread public scorn. The huge allocation of medical resources dedicated to AIDS research with its great medical success made it possible to reopen the bathhouses. Those “living with AIDS” were soon profiled as “courageous” and even portrayed as roles models (such as basketball star Magic Johnson).
As magnificent as medical technology can be, there is a downside. Just as the distinction between “just killing” and “murder” in the context of war is often determined by a soldier’s motive, those in the medical professions have a similar moral tension. With the wonderful advances in medical technology it becomes easy for us to presume ourselves to be the “masters of life” rather than the “ministers of life” (cf. Humanae vitae 13). Hence the contraceptive mentality, at its root, is a sin against faith. And as Chesterton says, “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.”
It’s fascinating and ironic to consider that Catholic teaching on human life and on the regulation of birth (Humanae Vitae) promises to postpone—or could have postponed—the Apocalypse. Regardless, if Pope Paul’s magisterial teaching had been taken seriously, innumerable mortal sins would have been avoided, the effects of which are apocalyptic enough on individual souls. Removing Wormwood from the water supply may be the most pressing ecological issue of our day.
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