The popularity of Brussels sprouts and the advent of “the pill”

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The popularity of Brussels sprouts and the advent of “the pill”: A secular argument for biblical living

May 11, 2023 -

Cooked Brussel sprouts © By Josh /

Cooked Brussel sprouts © By Josh /

Cooked Brussel sprouts © By Josh /

Have you noticed that Brussels sprouts are more popular than ever? I used to hate them; now I order them in restaurants whenever I can.

Here’s what happened: in 1998, a Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn identified sinigrin and progoitrin as chemicals that made the vegetable taste bitter. Dutch seed companies then bred these chemicals out. By the 2010s, Brussels sprouts didn’t taste bitter and became popular with culinary celebrities and then with the general public.

Now consider a second scientific discovery that changed the world in surprising ways: last Tuesday saw the sixty-third anniversary of “the pill.” Enovid-10, the world’s first commercially produced birth-control pill, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on May 9, 1960. As one analyst noted, it soon “gave birth to an economic revolution.”

The pill allowed women to delay marriage and motherhood with less fear of an unexpected pregnancy. As a result, they began entering professions such as medicine, law, and business in unprecedented numbers. When feminism emerged as a movement, laws against sex discrimination were enacted. In addition, the drafting of young men to fight in Vietnam forced employers to recruit more women.

All this to say, the birth control pill changed American society in dramatic and fundamental ways. While we can applaud the induction of women into the workplace, the pill had other consequences. By decoupling sex from marriage, it empowered the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s and continues today.

“The only way to earn money”

Dutch seed companies did not improve the taste of Brussels sprouts merely for culinary reasons: they wanted to sell more seeds and thus make more money. Similarly, the pharmaceutical company that developed Enovid-10 did not set out to change society: it was founded by Gideon Daniel Searle in 1888 to make money. (NutraSweet is another of its profitable inventions.)

This is how capitalism works. As Earl Nightingale noted in The Strangest Secret, “The only way to earn money is by providing people with services or products that are needed and useful. . . . Prosperity is founded upon a law of mutual exchange.”

Adam Smith (1723–90), considered the founder of modern economics, similarly identified the two laws of the market: self-interest and competition. He used the term “invisible hand” to describe how free markets incentivize individuals, acting in their own self-interest, to produce what society wants and needs. However, competition restrains such self-interest: if a producer overcharges for products or underpays employees, others will offer more reasonable prices and fairer wages.

Here’s the problem: this system has no way to ensure that products being produced at a fair profit are morally advantageous to society. Capitalism works for pornography and cigarettes just as it does for cars and computers. It can improve the taste of Brussels sprouts, but it can also undermine marriage and family and, thus, the society upon which it is built.

In addition, capitalism conditions us to be consumers in every dimension of our lives. David Brooks describes this worldview: “The purpose of my life is to be happy—to live a life in which my pleasures, however I define them, exceed my pains.”

“Try before you buy” doesn’t work with marriage

Yesterday we discussed the “performative” view of truth: our personal beliefs are true for us and thus should be accepted by society. From elective abortion to redefining gender and marriage to enabling euthanasia, our culture has substituted subjective preferences for objective morality.

Americans have been practicing such ethical relativism long enough that we can now assess its results. Here’s one example: because “the pill” and other contraceptives can prevent unintended pregnancy, it has become conventional wisdom that couples should cohabit before marriage to see if they are compatible. Never mind the clear biblical teaching that sex should be reserved for marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24; Hebrews 13:4); “try before you buy” is the consumeristic way many approach this question.

In a recent “Breakpoint” article, John Stonestreet and Shane Morris examine the science behind this approach. Citing a variety of datasets and studies, they report that “the lowest divorce rates in early marriage are found among married couples who have only had sex with each other.”

For example, women who wait until they are married to have sex have only a 5 percent chance of divorce in the first five years of marriage; women who report two or more sex partners prior to marriage have between a 25 percent and 35 percent chance of divorce. In addition, couples who had only one sexual partner reported the highest overall levels of relationship satisfaction, relationship stability, and sexual satisfaction. By contrast, cohabitation is associated with a higher risk of divorce among couples who go on to get married.

The shortest prayer in the Bible

The Bible consistently assures us that living biblically is the best way for us to live (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16–17). However, I cannot prove to you that this is so. A relationship with God, like all other relationships, requires a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating. You cannot prove you should take a job until you accept it. You cannot prove you should get married or have children until you get married and have children.

When you take God at his word, you discover that he always keeps his word. Conversely, as theologian J. V. Langmead Casserley noted, we do not break God’s word: we break ourselves on God’s word. The choice is yours.

I am continuing to lead a study tour of Israel this week; today, we will be in a boat on the Sea of Galilee at the spot where Peter walked on the water to Jesus (Matthew 14:22–32). When the apostle took his eyes off his Lord, “He was afraid, and beginning to sink” (v. 30a). Immediately, he “cried out” the shortest prayer in the Bible: “Lord, save me” (v. 30b). And Jesus did.

Do you need to make Peter’s prayer yours today?

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