TREND Magazine: Navagation Bar

Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #2

How Many Is Too Many?

In the words of a, somewhat red-faced, associate of mine, "Having a child is the most amazing experience. If you deny yourself that experience, you sell yourself short."

Why are we so focused on procreation?

The nursery room door is closed. All is hushed. His little wrinkled feet curl up in the cutest possible way. His tiny fingers grasp my finger in a steady grip, surprisingly strong for such a small baby. He yawns, he sighs. How is it possible that such loud cries of torment just a few moments before could subside into such cozy gurgles of contentment? Only heaven knows.

Here, lying in my arms, is the spark of life. The divine spark. Passed from my brother and sister-in-law to a new being. A little piece of each exists in my arm and, yet, something more. Something unique. His potential is boundless. Will Manya and I ever experience this something kind of wonderful, I wonder.

I also wonder how long we may keep the nursery door closed. Outside lies a worrisome fact of life that threatens to overwhelm, not us, but this little boy held in my arms. We can choose to keep that door closed. We can choose to shut our ears and tune out reality, but at what price? Who will pay for our blissfully chosen ignorance? Not us, I think. I think our children will.

What lies outside the nursery door? Over-population. The World Health Organization expects us to double the population of this planet, again, sometime in the next fifty years. That means there’ll be twice as many of us not only in the room right now, but wherever we go.

Oh, I know. I can hear the objection already. Lack of room has never been a problem in this country (just take a spin through the Dakotas). And then there is that little fact about how our population growth is rapidly closing in on zero. So, the old saw goes, those lesser developed countries may be crowding themselves out, but we just don’t have that problem here. Over-crowding is not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about how much our little rock in this remote corner of the universe can sustain, and how that will affect us. I’m worried about the very real prospect of nations defining their national interests based on how much fresh water, how much arable land, and how many natural resources they possess.

Think I’m too Malthusian? One question: Aside from all the glory and the Stormin’ Norman hooplah, why did we fight the Gulf War? Something about who controls the oil on this planet, wasn’t it? Continue on this path and we will leave a world to our children in which they shall have to fight like jackals over the same giraffe carcass while they wait for a sustainable environment to be created on Mars. For the first time in our history, we are being asked as a species the question of how many of us should there be? How many is too many? Twelve billion? Twenty billion? Thirty billion?

As natural as it is to have children, I have a hard time believing that we were created to over-crowd ourselves. Being fruitful and multiplying only works so long as there is still room for some fruit. The answer seems quite clear, whether the Religious Right and the Vatican want to accept it or not, we are simply going to have to limit our procreation. Easily written, not so easily achieved.

As is my wont, I can’t help but ask what theology has to say about any of this, even if it gets me placed on the Christian Coalition’s boycott list. I think that mainstream theology is standing in the way, here. And, if it’s not, it certainly isn’t pitching in to help. Trotting out those old head-in-the-sand Genesis verses only makes it worse. We need some new answers to this new problem. The odd thing about all this is that I believe that the old view has been kind of a problem all along. Over-population is just bringing it to light. I think we are far too procreative centered. We need to re-think what place giving birth has in our lives. Childbirth certainly seems to be an awesome moment (speaking as someone who has yet to experience it). But I just don’t buy that it is the most important event of our lives. Rather, I think that the act of creation itself is.

Creation of beauty. Creation of justice. Creation of peace and harmony where there is mostly distrust and alienation between us. Imagine a society that resolves its disputes through love and not jurisprudence. Any of these, and many more not written, amount to a lifetime’s work, even more. Think of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling, think of the Middle East peace talks, think of your family over the spread of years, and, yes, think of the child you hold in your arms.

Giving birth is but one of many experiences in life, not the ultimate one. Creating is an experience that, held in its fullest light, is just as moving. The idea only sounds radical because we’ve entertained it so little throughout history. It’s a different kind of grace, but no less awe-inspiring. Rather than focusing outward, as we have become accustomed to, on the spark within the child, creating brings us face to face with the divine spark within ourselves. What are our talents? What are our passions? What is our promise? I believe that we suppress these as we look forward to the promise of the new generation.

There is a terrible price paid for this suppression. And it’s not simply that we fail to realize our potential, it is also that we stop working at bettering this world. In the name of sacrifice, we give up the better part of ourselves, mistakenly believing that we should focus everything on the next generation, and, as a result, we leave them a world bereft of its potential as well. The same old disease, famine, war and suffering accompany each generation as it is born only to be carried on to the next. With each new generation, we hope that the Kingdom will come. With each new generation it fails to arrive.

Let me be clear, as I can hear the grumbling already: I am not preaching some kind of hedonistic, live for yourself philosophy (God knows that my siblings and I know the results of slipshod parenting). My point is that we need to find a better balance. We need to rethink the role that childbirth has in our lives as a people developing a relationship with God. We need to become comfortable with the idea that a full, satisfyingly spiritual life does not have to include being a parent. Perhaps in pulling back from such a procreative focus, in better balancing our parenthood with our potential, in daring to ask the question "how many is too many?", perhaps we’d be able to leave this world a better place than how we found it. Wouldn’t that be something?

-- Jeff the Baptist

 

U.S. Population Clock


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