Last year, a professor of Japanese Buddhism urged John Paul II to reconsider his stance on contraception in light of overpopulation questions. This excerpt is reprinted from Tricycle with permission of the author. Read the unabridged letter.

Your Holiness, John Paul II:

Convinced that a fully responsible stewardship of our planet requires that we control the increasingly rapid growth of our population, and that the knowledge and use of effective contraceptives is a proven means to that end, I deplore your opposition to these as both wrong and directly contrary to what would clearly benefit humanity at this time in our history.

By contrast, the public position of most Buddhists strikes me as ethical. Buddhist monks in Southeast and East Asia have openly supported programs to implement the responsible control of human birth and held that the use of contraceptive devices was not immoral and ought, in fact, to be encouraged.

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It will be no news to you that many of my Catholic friends disagree strongly with the views you articulate in a writing of yours that I have before me--namely, your 1995 encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, known in English as 'The Gospel of Life.' The majority of Catholics in Europe and America do not heed the position of the Vatican in their personal lives. But for many, their concerns extend beyond private desiderata; they see their church's position as morally indefensible in terms of its negative impact upon the ecological balances on our planet. It is, moreover, possible to argue that the wide use of contraceptives actually reduces the abortion rate. If many Catholics find much of the moral viewpoint expressed in Evangelium Vitae objectionable, it should not be surprising that this is all the more so the case for many who are not members of your church.

Many Buddhists will agree with some of the concerns you express in Evangelium Vitae--and join you in wishing to ask serious moral questions. They will agree fully that the gross disparity between the fabulously wealthy and the abysmally poor in our world must be deplored--and remediated. A major disagreement, however, will come over contraception. And that occurs, I suggest here, because Buddhism--perhaps uniquely among what are sometimes called the "world religions"--either explicitly or implicitly rejects what I have elsewhere called "fecundism," which may be defined most simply as the positing of links between reproductive success and religious value. It consists of defining the tribe's god or gods as mandating, or at least blessing, demographic expansion; the deity is depicted as rewarding piety with progeny. Fecundism has the god or gods as bedside cheerleaders, telling people that the deity's own deep wish is that his or her select people multiply in the greatest possible numbers.

Read the unabridged letter for further analysis of Evangelium Vitae's statements on ecology and human reproduction.

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