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The forbidden fruit and the genesis of The Pill

Only an attitude of faithful docility to God as the sole author of life can help human beings overcome the primordial temptation to take the pill and gain the false sense of control that it supplies.

"The Fall of Adam and Eve" as depicted on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. (Image: Wikipedia)

Human beings have contended against limits on their freedom from the very beginning. “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden,” God commanded Adam, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:16-17).

Adam had every tree save one, yet arboreal plentitude did not satisfy him. The one he could not have was the one he was duped to want the most. Only then would he be satisfied—and not in his stomach, but in his will for control and power.

There is one power that, ever since Adam clutched the forbidden fruit, human beings have sought above all others: the power over life and death. Free to do seemingly everything else, this alluring power, like Tantalus stretching for water in Hades, has remained maddeningly out of reach.

From fertility rites in the ancient world to biotechnology today, from Orpheus’ attempt to retrieve his poisoned wife to Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein, human beings have, sometimes desperately, sometimes maliciously, sought to generate life and to forestall death. Their minimal success has yet to inhibit more attempts.

Today, the birth control pill remains deeply entrenched in the modern world. Why? For more than just its promise of unlimited pleasure and personal license, as it seemingly provides men and women this most seductive and most elusive power: “You will be like God” (Gen 3:5). As Satan lied to entice Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, so the pill feeds the lie to men and women today: “Take it, and you will have God’s power over life and death. Then you will be truly free: free to have relations with whomever you please, free to control your family size, free to focus on yourself more and others less.”

But the pill’s promise, just as Satan’s, is one of false freedom since it subverts God’s power rather than imitates it. God is the creator and source of life; by virtue of that fact, He also determines when each human life comes to an end. In agony after his children died, Job most poignantly expressed this mystery: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

God’s power over life and death is so sacred that, after the fall, it is the subject of the very next lesson in the Book of Genesis. For prematurely ending his brother’s life, the Lord declares that Cain is “cursed from the ground” and “shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth” (Gen 4:11-12).

As with eating the fruit and killing Abel, the pill violates the order that God established. Rather than serve as coworkers with God in generating life, the couple using the pill snuffs out life before it can start. The forbidden fruit promised that Adam and Eve would be like God through knowledge of good and evil. The pill fools couples into thinking they have God’s power as they, wittingly or not, follow Milton’s Satan in proclaiming, “Evil, be thou my Good.”

The pill thus creates the illusion that human beings control more of their lives than they actually do. Hence when “the pill fails” and a woman becomes pregnant, worse consequences can follow, with abortion chief among them.

Perhaps, then, the pill, as the sine qua non of the Sexual Revolution, is a leading, if unnoticed, cause of secularization in America and the western world. The attitude of control and self-sufficiency that taking it engenders is precisely the opposite of disciples of Christ, who are called to surrender their lives to Christ:

He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:37-39)

When an attitude that excludes God’s creating power becomes institutionalized across a culture—two-thirds of child-bearing age women in America use some form of contraception—it is little wonder that the culture’s overall attitude toward religion will cool, or even become hostile.

God knew, St. John Chrysostom commented, that completely unlimited freedom harms human beings. So He imposed “abstinence from the tree so that man might realize that he owed enjoyment of them to divine love and goodness, and that God was Lord and creator of his nature as of all visible things.”

God commands the same in forbidding human beings to use the pill. He, and He alone, is the author of all life. He employs nature as His teacher: even when a married couple comes together to produce a child, there is an element of uncertainty whether the act will do so, and the answer awaits the passage of days. Then, whether the pregnancy survives those delicate first few weeks also escapes the couple’s control.

It is God, and God alone, who declares, “Let there be life.” It is God, and God alone, who provides the new life with a human soul that makes it a unique being bearing His own image and likeness.

Only an attitude of faithful docility to God as the sole author of life can help human beings overcome the primordial temptation to take the pill and gain the false sense of control that it supplies. Undoing the sin of Adam required nothing less than the incarnation, passion, and death of God’s Son.

Undoing the sin that the pill has wrought—and convincing people not to take it—requires the same salvation.

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About David G. Bonagura, Jr. 30 Articles
David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism. and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.


  1. And when man no longer gives God the worship that is His due, man substitutes himself for God. How else to explain the endemic disorder of our culture- narcissism?

  2. Very good article. But, to be even somewhat successful in turning around the artificial contraceptive mentality the evil of artificial contraception would have to be preached by priests at mass and taught in our Catholic Schools. Neither one is happening.

    I have not heard the issue even mentioned in passing in a homily in many decades.

    When speaking of something being taught by the Church, we have to distinguish between having an official position and actually teaching. Right now we just have an official position.

    • Our priest told us several years ago about how it does not break down and is affecting the water supply and its users.

  3. It does my heart good to start seeing more and more articles defending Catholic teaching about artificially and inherently induced sterility. It is my belief that these sins are the first tactic employed by Satan in his plan to destroy the Church. But this article leaves out the most important reason for avoid this evil. When God told Moses his name is I Am that I Am, He was telling us that his very Essence is fruitfulness. When we engage in intentional/inherent sterility, we destroy the Likeness of God within us. The Image of God remains, but not the Likeness. The Holy Spirit cannot dwell in a spiritual soul that is not in His Image and Likeness.

  4. We read: “Take it, and you will have God’s power over life and death…”Is this quite it?

    Or, is it that we first claim the power to REDEFINE “good” and “evil” as their opposites; and only then do the “pill” thing—because we no longer even ask the big questions? The Big Lie is the lie within the lie! As convoluted as, say, a serpent. Adam blames Eve, and Eve blames the serpent. The coils of circularity…

    But, then, of the pill itself, this invention miniaturizes the revolution at an early Anglican Lambeth Conference. Of which, later in 1948, the defeated minority still TOLD IT LIKE IT IS:

    “It is, to say the least, suspicious that the age in which contraception has won its way is not one which has been conspicuously successful in managing its sexual life. Is it possible that, by claiming the right to manipulate his physical processes in this manner, man may, without knowing it, be stepping over the boundary between the world of Christian marriage and what one might call the world of Aphrodite, the world of sterile eroticism?” (Cited in Wright, “Reflections on the Third Anniversary of a Controverted Encyclical,” St. Louis: Central Bureau Press, 1971).

    The pill as the MINIATURIZATION of an overall revolution…Such that, today, we now have the abortion pill–the miniaturization of Auschwitz into a home medicine cabinet. But never let it be said that God can miniaturize a human person into a unique DNA.

    And, at der Synodale Weg, we have contagion toward the redefinition of all sexual morality, under the nearly infinite miniaturization of thought itself! Butt, surely Cardinal Hollerich and his “experts” will do better at the also CIRCULAR or tautological Synod-on-Synodality of 2023, to circle around yet again into 2024, and then, who knows…”the endless journey” where the process IS the message!

    Of the Fall, why are we reminded of Alice falling endlessly into the rabbit hole?”

  5. Interestingly, Rev. Calvin Robinson, orthodox priest of the Free Church of England, recently criticised the Lambeth Conference of 1930, which accepted divorce (in difficult situations, of course) and that of 1948, which accepted artificial contraception (in serious situations, again of course). Mm. Any connection to “safe, legal and rare”?

  6. It is difficult to identify the silliest moment during this pontificate, but I have a favorite that most ignore. Early in his pontificate Francis proposed creating a “committee” to “restudy” Humanae Vitae to see if possibly it really meant an endorsement of contraception. Many years of agonized intense debate over that encyclical, yet he was convinced that after millions of people read it and debated it, somehow, everyone came away with a reverse understanding of what it said that a “committee” would now “correct.”

  7. They disobey the Genesis 1:28 commandment–their first commandment–to “be fruitful and multiply [in the Garden]” when they become one flesh incorrectly (Genesis 2:24) by eating allegorical fruit from the allegorical wrong tree in the allegorical Garden’s center (Genesis 2:9). Any conflation with Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 2, 3, and 4:1 joins the beginning of the narrative in Genesis 1:28 with its conclusion in Genesis 4:1, but combines no conflicting ideas.

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