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The ROM, The Earth & Procreation

Disclaimer: This post is intended to generate discussion and a sharing of many opinions. It is NOT intended to judge or condemn anyone's life choices.

I had an unexpected moment at the ROM last month. C and I were listening to a presentation for kids on wildlife conservation (or rather, I was listening, and C was eagerly anticipating what live animal would come out next), when a statement caught my attention and still hasn't let go.

For most of history, the earth could provide enough resources for the earth's human population. But today, our population is growing rapidly, increasing by 250 000 people every day... Forty years from now, it will require 2 Earths to provide sustainably for our survival as a human species. But we only have 1 Earth.

250 000 people.
Every day.
That is roughly twice the size of my hometown.
In one day.

So I did a little math.
(First, I rounded down to 200 000, just in case the figures were inflated or failed to account for some sort of population decrease, like infant mortality.)

The results for our annual growth as a species is astounding.

In one year, the Earth's population grows by 73 million people.
That is 2 Canadas.
In one year.

This calculation was the premise for a surprising question to myself:
Is it selfless and right to assume that I should and will have children?

I have never before considered that if I marry and am able to have children, I would choose not to. But why is child-bearing the assumption? I thought of a few reasons.

  1. It's been this way for as long as humans have been around...if you're having sex, you're gonna end up with kids.
  2. There is something profound and beautiful about carrying a life inside of you, and it's the unique power of a woman to do so.
  3. Historically, carrying on one's lineage has had a significant urgency to it.
  4. In church-going circles, there is a strong belief in the God-given command to “be fruitful and multiply.” I think this is connected to an obvious “easy” way to spread and expand the church-going community.
  5. Aren't we all a little curious about what our offspring will look like, how we'll combine genes with the love-of-our-life to produce the most adorable things on two legs?
  6. More seriously, a child can be seen as the literal result and expression of a couples' love for each other. It is two-become-one in the flesh.

So why would I rethink this expression-of-love and religious-obedience?
Because I realized there are more factors to consider.

In the same breath as the be fruitful-and-multiply command, there is a command to rule over (and therefore care for) the earth and all its other inhabitants. Although we have historically acted like it, I don't think that the command to multiply trumps the command to care for the earth.

I'm afraid to admit my left-wing leanings (not that this will come as a shocker to most of you), but I'm a firm believer in creation-care. I'm trying to integrate this more intentionally into my life. I choose not to own a car. I make a conscious effort to purchase “green” cleaning products. I reduce, reuse, recycle. I buy organic or when I can. Little, easy things. But if I value this earth the way God originally intended, how radically would my lifestyle shift?

I have thought often about this, but before the ROM, it never touched on my family-planning (not that I'm planning a family, per se – more my family assumptions).

Now I have to ask myself -
  • Is it fair, is it right to add to the exponential growth of our species, arguably one of the most dangerous trends of our time (because it is the basis for all the humanity-related woes and dangers)?
  • Do I assume I will bear children someday because I feel confident it is what God wants for me, or because culturally, it is my right/duty/joy?
  • In today's culture, as one of the world's most affluent people, what does it look like to seriously consider the call to rule the earth? What about the command to take care of orphans and widows?

(kindly, please)


Katie V. said…
Intriguing. I have puzzles over this myself. My time of reflection came after reading "The World Without Us". It is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking books I have read. At one point they mention a group of people that live by this philosophy: spare the earth, don't have children. It is so much more than that though, it is a lovely philosophy where the elderly are cared for, orphaned and abandoned children are loved and we quietly relinquish the earth to allow it a chance to recover. I blogged about it here ( The VHEMT concept is worth checking out.

Of course,God isn't part of my equation so the beauty of VHEMT may be lost on someone who believes that the earth was created to have humans (for humans?) or that it is not our ultimate decision to eliminate ourselves from the planet.

Will I have children? Probably. I still am selfish and wish to give birth, to have my own offspring. It has caused me to consider adoption more seriously though. Perhaps one of my own and one adopted child?

Ramble over
Ariana said…
Two thoughts immediately come to mind:

(1) I highly doubt our birth rates in North America are among the highest in the world, and indeed, my extensive Wikipedia research agrees that we are among the lowest.

(2) God designed us as humans to procreate, and He knew before the beginning of time that the more people we have on earth, the faster we'd continue to grow. I have to believe that this is part of His plan. You and I both know that He did not design this earth to last in its current form into eternity. I'm all for good stewardship, but I am ever so against the idea that purposely not having children just to "not add to the problem" is counterproductive for us as humans and as Jesus-followers.

Note that the nations where birth rate is the highest ( are those that are the poorest or most remote. What conclusions can we draw from this? Important ones about missions and education, methinks.
Laura said…
Even leaving God out of the equation (which is nearly impossible for me to do 'cause I love Him a lot) leads to the conclusion that children must be born. Ariana's comment that we have low birth rates is true thus the rich getting richer thing just keeps expanding. But as our world becomes increasingly skewed with wealth, our futures are at risk. If there is a limited next generation who will care for, feed, clothe, wipe the asses of this generation which is continuing to age? Our pensions will collapse, as well as our health care systems etc. There must be a generation to come behind simply for the task of caring for those who went before.

Now on to God. We who believe that Jesus is our savior and Lord and believe that He desperately desires to be that for others need to raise children who will be witness to His power and His transforming ways. Those children will then bear witness to the generation they find themselves in. Also, back to the compassion thing. If we don't have children who are raised in the compassion of Christ I fear for the generations to come. There needs to be a remnant who will at least strive to 'not think too highly of themselves' and to put others before their own needs. Oh, yes, the biblical principles extend into the very core of society!! Save the earth! Bear children!! But maybe, Jesus will just come back and get us all, then we won't have to contemplate these thoughts any more 'cause the earth will be perfect and we'll never die.
Beth said…
Hooray for a great start to the conversation! Thanks for getting things going, ladies.

Katie - Thanks for sharing the link! I've read your synopsis and will check out the book. Regardless of one's religious stance, I think there's a near-universal recognition that the extinction of humans on earth is going to happen eventually...the idea of doing it selflessly sounds intriguing.

Also, I think that despite how many of us live (and some talk), the idea that the world was created for humans is not an accurate Christian perspective; I would argue that all of creation exists for God, while humans have been given the authority to care for it as only we can. Our massive failure in this regard is what's got me thinking...

Ariana - (I am way overdue on an email to you. Which I am promising will arrive this week.)

I agree that mission and education are a huge part of the ultimate solution! I didn't address them here, because I already know my stance on both; I am for them. However, the idea that childbearing choices need also be weighed was a new one to me. Although I know we are not the most over populated country/continent, consumption/pollution/the cumulative effect on the planet is not a one-to-one correlation; ie, just because Canada only has 30 million people does not mean we have one-tenth of the impact of a developing nation with a population of 300 million... and we already have the resources and education to make some of the changes that other countries are unable to do. With great knowledge & power comes great responsibility. (I think someone famous said that) I think it's also important to clarify that I am not saying unequivocally that we should not have children; but that we (or at least I) need to more carefully weigh our motives and our calling in this choice, and that perhaps creation care ought to be a factor in our decisions.

Laura - a. Laughed out loud at the "wiping the asses of the next generation" comment. Because I know that quite literally, you see the vital necessity of this.
b. Would a radical stance on intentional adoption address some of your concerns? This would give family, hope, education, power to thousands of children whose quality of life would otherwise be (by our standards) unbearably low. What if we raised these children in the compassion and care that you talk about, raising up a generation who, although not our flesh-and-blood, would do these things?
Ariana said…
I have contemplated this post all day, and I think at the bottom of everything, I find it very troubling. Beth, I don't know how much is you playing the devil's advocate here (which in and of itself is rarely a good thing), and how much is you just pondering some things out loud, but I do think there comes a point where it could be said that this is like trying to wrap Scripture around the world's way of thinking instead of straight-up looking at what God tells us in black and white. I am 100% sure that's not your intention, but the tone of this post does unnerve me. I reiterate what I said about that you and I both know that this Earth was not created to last for eternity.

And one thing that's been rolling around in my brain all day--and perhaps this is an extreme take on the matter--but you could use your statements above to also argue against medical research, because keeping people alive who by all rights should be dead is a strain on our resources. Should we let cancer kill? I see a very clear line between "choosing not to procreate for the betterment of the planet" and "choosing to let people die for the betterment of the planet."

I think I know your heart enough to know how much you love discussion and truth, Beth, but I really do think that some of the things expressed in this post veer sharply into dangerous territory. I hope that as you ponder this and pray over it, you land with peace in a position that aligns with God's position on children and family.

(And fwiw I TOTALLY support adoption as a helpful solution to this.)
Anonymous said…
Hey Beth,

This is an interesting topic to me too. I feel maybe the same as you, that it is important to take creation care into consideration when planning a family, just as it is in making purchases and lifestyle choices.

I used to want 4 children, and I think that has changed partially because of my developing environmental awareness. Now it is more like one, possibly two of my own, and adoption.

Last year when I worked at an orphanage, I loved the children dearly and one of them in particular, I dreamed of adopting. There is a lot to consider in adoption, however, and depending on the type of adoption, one should not jump into it lightly. There needs to be a strong conviction and maybe experience and knowledge of children's development and mental health before considering adopting a child with high risk behaviours or history, if that is the child's case. Though it is rare, there have been cases of families bringing the child 'back'. What I am trying to say is that adoption may not be the choice for everyone and that families should educate themselves and pray with a listening heart before choosing it.

I just read a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Dr. Clarissa Estes and online there was a discussion about the philosophy of living she encourages (listening to your instincts, going against the grain, living a life involving much play and creating, in a nutshell) and living a Christian faith. She recommended a character study on some of the "heroic women of their times and especially of their overcultures" found in the Bible. Among some of the women she listen was Pharoah's daughter "who took a strange and unknown child against her own bloodline, to her heart". I haven't found where that is yet in the Bible to comment on, but Dr. Estes noted that action was standing proudly and against what she likely would have been told to do. I believe even now, adoption is counter-cultural. It is true that many people do not consider it enough, even though God has made this commandment in the Bible.

On that commandment, adopting is not the only way to "take care of orphans in their distress", though it certainly is one. Volunteering time, and skills to some of these purposes or donating money is also possible. I believe God calls everyone to contribute in some way to alleviating oppression to marginalized society. Orphans and widows are vulnerable and require much help from the Church to be pulled out of their difficult states.
Katie V. said…
Looks like I'm on here to be the non-christian viewpoint in this discussion ;) Just for the curious though, I know both sides fairly well.


I read your comment a few hours ago but put off replying for a bit. I'd like to address it more fully but I'm studying for a major exam tomorrow. I don't see how playing the "devil's advocate" is inherently a bad thing. Take the word devil out and you get "opposing perspective for the sake of debate".

There are few other things that worry about your comment. 1. That the bible has, in any way, a clear black on white stance on this (or really, anything at all). There are so many perspectives to take on every issue, that is why there are so many denominations (and disagreements). Saying something is black and white is assuming that you have a perfect interpretation of what you believe to be the word of God. That is fairly presumptuous.

2. The frightening thing is not Beth's honest examination of her thoughts on this forum, what is scary is the statement that the earth is only temporary. How temporary? Do you know? Even if the world has just a short time left there are people today that suffer greatly from the impact of the developed world and from overpopulation. Perhaps Beth's idea isn't the ultimate answer but at least she is thoughtfully considering her options based on the bigger picture. I mean, biologically speaking the fate of the earth and humans means nothing one way of the other to the universe.

3. This point I struggle to communicate properly. In no way do I think it is appropriate to try to convict someone for their thoughts. The last portion of your comment smells of censorship and placing guilt for one's perspective or opinion. That comment illustrates almost perfectly the attitude I fled from when I left the church and found myself agnostic/atheist and oh-so-much more satisfied. Engage in discussion but try not to judge or bring shame upon others for their honest opinions/soul searching.
Katie V. said…
Woops, to continue my second point "I mean, biologically speaking the fate of the earth and humans means nothing one way of the other to the universe."...Yet we still have (what I believe to be) a moral obligation to protect what we have and leave it in at least as good or better condition than we began.
Beth said…
Ariana - Thanks for your follow up thoughts, and your concern - I know it's because you care for me, and I love that. :)

I'm in no way intending to play "devil's advocate." I knew this post would stir up thoughts (and disagreements), and I'm okay with that. But I really am wondering about these things.

I don't think I see what "black and white" truth I'm challenging - can you explain?

As for this earth not being created for eternity... I totally agree. But I don't think that means we have fair game to run it into the ground. Wherever there is biblical mandate to rule, there is biblical mandate to serve. And we have not been serving the rest of creation well - and yes, the rest of creation is "different" than humanity. But the rest of creation declares the glory of God, groans in its captivity, etc... and these thoughts are also tied to a deep desire to see us better care for the weak and poor among us as humans. This is another biblical mandate that we affluent people have historically done a horrible job of. (I want it to be clear that my questions are not stemming only from the impact of humanity on the earth, but also our responsibility to the rest of our species.)

I in no way intend to say that families or children are a bad thing - I love them both!!! (I moved back here to be close to my family, and I'm working with children 10 hours a day!). Can you explain how you feel my questions may not line up with God's perspective here?

(also, I'm going to leave my thoughts on humanity's approach to delaying death for another day...but if you want to hear them, let me know :)

Rachelle - Thanks for weighing in!! I fully agree that adopting is not always the best option, nor is it the only option...I just think it's one we don't consider often enough, given our affluence and influence. We also don't volunteer enough. Or be foster parents. Or...lots of things we could do!

That book sounds fascinating. I'd like to check it out.

Katie - I know you're not the only non-Christian reading this...hopefully others will weigh in too. :)

I won't respond to your other thoughts, since they're not directed at me...but I appreciate your perspective here. And your obvious care for me in what you say. I find it (more than) slightly amusing that although you and Ariana have shared opposing opinions, they both stem from care for me... and that makes me feel loved.
jamieunited said…

1. Why is "creation-care" left-wing?
2. "Non-Christian" is such a Christian term.
3. It seems more profitable to have as many kids as you can, teaching them to take care of the earth and influence others to do the same. What if Mother Theresa's parents didn't have kids because they thought there was already too many kids in the world that were uncared for?
Vanessa said…
Glad I came back to check out the comments on this post.

I do think having children is a calling - whether they are yours biologically or born of another woman's womb.
As someone who loves Jesus and his Word, I actually think we (Christians) are ALL called to adoption. However, that looks different for each person. For some it may mean going to Africa and bringing home a child into your family to love and raise. For others it may mean financially and emotionally giving toward those who bring children into their families to raise.

Some great points have been raised. Child bearing is a personal issue and I don't think we can say as a blanket statement to anyone that they should or should NOT bring children into this world.
But we are all called to love and speak into the lives of children in whatever way that looks for us.

I also think (and please don't take this the wrong way Beth and any other single ladies out there) that it's very difficult to make a decision like this before you've been married and experience the " THAT'S why people have kids" that comes with being married.

I always knew I wanted to be a mother some day but sure enough a few months (months!) after I got married it hit me. And I GOT IT. It's something that just seemed so innate and natural to desire to bear children with the man I love.

So I think it's great that you're thinking this through, Beth. I commend you for it. It's one of the things I really love about you. You take the time to wrestle through what you believe and why you believe and should you keep believing it.

Now I'd love to see you have a conversation with my friend's husband who firmly believes we (Christians) need to have large (and I'm not talking about 4 kids...we're talking like at LEAST 5 - he was #7 of 12 I think.) families to make sure the world doesn't get taken over by Muslims who are also having large families and (obviously) bringing more Muslims into the world. Now that would be a GREAT conversation to be a part of. :)
Katie V. said…
Ooo, called out for the term Non-christian. I'm not sure if I agree but I will admit to using the lingo (hard habit to break). Here's another: conviction/convicted. I can talk the talk I just choose not to walk the walk. But for this discussion it is appropriate anyway: i'm not the only atheist/agnostic I (so far) am the only person speaking from a perspective that is not christian aka non-christian. Other faiths and philosophies represent?

And since I'm on here: I don't think that it is evil to have children. But to address the mother theresa comment: if that was their reasoning for not having children they would have adopted a child who needed a home/to be loved. So at the least a child that grew up without stability/a family would have had one. At best, in the same environment as MT they would have turned out the same and done very similar great things. The question is moot though because the same can be asked about Hitler/Stalin/Mao's parents.
Ariana said…
I'll expand on my previous statements in a moment, but to address Katie specifically, I agree that good stewardship of the earth is our responsibility. As Beth pointed out, it's Biblical, just as much as "be fruitful and multiply" is.

I disagree, however, that my comment "smells of censorship," when Beth is my good friend and I am discussing this with her the way I would were we standing face to face. My comments are no more censoring Beth's thoughts than yours are censoring mine. Yes, as Bible-believing Jesus-followers, we believe that some things are wrong, and yes, that is a judgment. And I'm ok with that. God calls us to be discerning.

Beth, I would be so interested to hear your heart on this specifically, as they were your words originally: "In the same breath as the be fruitful-and-multiply command, there is a command to rule over (and therefore care for) the earth and all its other inhabitants. Although we have historically acted like it, I don't think that the command to multiply trumps the command to care for the earth."

This view seems to me overly simplistic. Neither command "trumps" the other command. Nor could they! Our God does not make contradicting commands, but rather these two commands are to be lived out in a complementary manner.

As Christians, we are called to interpret the world through God's eyes, through Scripture, not the other way around. Taking the wisdom of the world and trying to evaluate and interpret God's commands through it is a very dangerous way of doing things.

I don't think that your original post, Beth, was intended to do this, and I know you know this truth just as well as I do. But the words spoke so strongly of worldly wisdom to me.

And I really don't think you were trying to say anything along the lines of us categorically not having children to help save the Earth. I understand that your comments were a call to take creation care into consideration when planning a family. But I think we get into big trouble here in that this can so easily take God out of the equation--what's His plan for our family? How does our family fit into His ultimate, big picture plan to redeem us and our Earth to His glory?
Beth said…
Jamie - Thanks for being the first guy to weigh in!

1. I don't actually think it is, but it is in opposition to the stereotypical "right-wing" fundamentalist Christian that most people outside of the church expect.

2. yup.

3. Katie addressed this... I know nature/nurture is a whole other debate, but you can't guarantee what kind of kid you're going to have. And if you think that nurture wins every time...why not adopt a bunch of kids and have the same outcome?

Vanessa - I have secretly been hoping you would comment since a week before I posted this entry. For realz.

Thanks for your thoughts. And I totally agree that in my singleness, it is much easier to question the assumptions. It would be arrogant to think I could take a stance on this issue that will not be affected by a husband or take his own perspective into fact, I wouldn't take a stance on this issue until after I'm married (should that occur).

Um, as for your could be fascinating or it could be frustrating to dialogue with them :)

Katie - Thanks. Again.

Ariana - I think I understand a bit more fully what you mean - and I don't think we disagree all that much.

I agree that God's commands don't "trump" each other...what I feel is that we (generalizing for Christianity in the past century) have paid far more attention to the procreation command than we have the care-for-the-world-and-orphans commands. The questions I'm asking are trying to get at the heart you talk about - what would it look like for these to be lived out in balance and unity in my life and in our lives corporately? (does that clarify?)

As for the "worldly wisdom" bit - I'm not sure what struck you that way, but feel free to ask for more clarification. I do try to avoid using a lot of church-speak in how I communicate, so maybe it's a matter of wording?
Anonymous said…
Ok, it's late in the UK, but I promised to comment before I went to bed, so I apologise if this isn't particularly coherent. And just to lay cards on the table for future discussion. I'm a Christian, and I work as a marine biologist/coastal manager, therefore am somewhat passionate about creation care.

So God says to be fruitful and he also commissioned man to steward the earth (would never say *rule*, but I can't be bothered to root out the closest hebrew translation, but it's definitely more of a 'look after what God owns kind of deal). I agree they're not contradictory and can work out in tandem. My simplified opinion is therefore, yes, have kids, but have seriously think about how many you have in terms of what the strain on local resources raising a kid (or many) will have.

I know we can argue about birth rates being different in other parts of the world, and yes education and family planning is essential, but it doesn't remove ANY of our personal responsibility in our own context. In my view, one of the biggest tragedies of glabalisation is the ability to shift blame; as responsible christian, stewarding earth, and in particular the bit that i have the good fortune to stand on, I need to consider how much of a chunk I should be tearing up with my family.

Adoption is always good.

And I don't think here i've come across many Christians over here who see having kids as a method of adding to the flock - mostly it's an attitude of 'God blesses us as he wishes' 'if he wants me to have 5 kids, then He will'. Not that it's a Catholic anti-contraception attitude, but more that we have no right to choose how many kids we should have.

I say we do. And i'll be willing to say when I'm back from holiday in 10 days (when this discussion will likely have died!)
Ariana said…
Thanks, Beth. I think the wording was a big part of my reaction to your post--I am not used to hearing you "take the Christian out" of what you're saying, and it was unnerving to me. I really do think the heart of this matter lies in our faith, though, not in "practical" wisdom (though there is of course a large element of that).

I appreciate that this post and the subsequent discussion has given me food for thought as I live my life and dream about my future family. Maybe I will choose to adopt one or more children, even if I am able to conceive biological children. Adoption is a topic near and dear to my heart as all three of my sister's children were local Canadian adoptions--children TRULY given a second chance at life, thanks to my sister and her husband.

I also have a problem with people who (like the commenter directly above me here pointed out) think they should reproduce like rabbits with no personal responsibility. That's way too far in the other direction. There is a middle ground to be had here, and I did worry that your original post was near to calling it irresponsible to have ANY children at all--when I now understand that you were pointing out just one more factor to consider when planning a family.

So thanks! This has been a good discussion.
Beth said…
Keepfishing - Well, this was a poorly timed vacation... (kidding!)

Thanks for reading & commenting. Two quick questions:
1. In terms of taking personal responsibility for "my own chunk" of earth, do you think that we (the educated and elite) have a greater responsibility, or a responsibility to care for a greater portion of the earth, because the opportunity is more available to us than to many people in the world? (if that makes sense)
2. Do you have a sense, from your UK/North America friend circles, if either creation care or procreation are approached differently in the two cultures (within and/or outside of the church)?

Ariana - I'm glad I've been able to clarify things a bit...and that this has been food for thought for you (as it has been for me).

One final comment - I didn't at all intend to communicate that I "took the Christian out" of what I'm saying, merely that I try limiting the language that makes thoughts inaccessible for people outside the church. The ideas and questions, I would say are profoundly "Christian." But if I communicate them in the sometimes exclusive and confusing language of the church, I make it more difficult for conversations to cross religious & philosophical groupings. And you know how I feel about inter-faith conversations; I love them!
Anonymous said…
OK, OK. I couldn't help myself. I'm at work so this will be a very brief comment, for now. This is mostly an observation (which you may have addressed in the comment section, I didn't read it all) and then a reflective question. Your list of 6 reasons *for* child-bearing contain both arguments from nature (this is what human creatures do) and theological (part of being made in God's image etc) arguments. These are hefty arguments (and for me very convincing ones!), yet you seem to gloss over them quite quickly.

Why do you speed past these so quickly? Why do they not hold much weight for you?

OK. Back to work. :)
Beth said…
JT - thanks for commenting! (also, I realized that this post is TWO years old. Yowza.)

I didn't intend to gloss over the reasons for procreation because they're not important or they hold no weight - more that they're relatively well-known and held commonly (within the church).

I wrote this post because I'd only recently begun to even consider that there are other factors to consider, and that while those are indeed weighty and important things, there are also weighty and important perspectives that would lend towards not procreating.

At the beginning of life, God calls humanity to procreate and fill the earth. Yes. He also calls us to care for and rule over the earth. Is one a more holy call than the other? I would argue no. However, our Christian circles have decidedly devoted a great deal more energy and attention to the first command. So much so that I would say we've jeopardized the second...and that if we want to take seriously the second, maybe we need to revisit how we are currently approaching the first?

And secondly (relatedly), we are clearly called to care for orphans and widows, the outcasts and the have-nots. Yet often, I see the western church neglecting this responsibility because of their families, because of all that is necessary in birthing and raising families as our culture dictates...and again, perhaps to seriously obey the kind of world-care that Jesus calls us to, we need to reconsider how we prioritize his commands.

One thing I want to state clearly - I am not anti-baby-having. I don't think it's unChristian to have children. At all. what I do think is that each individual, each couple, needs to wrestle with God about the way he is calling them to live (imperfectly as it inevitably will be) in today's world. And I see many people in the church who I believe over-spiritualize and idolize child-bearing and make decisions based on their wants and the particular values of a Christian subculture rather than conviction and persuasion about Jesus' specific call on their lives.

Ah, that got long.

Anonymous said…
(1) It seems to me that you're drawing a false dichotomy here between procreation and creation-care. Hermeneutically, these are not two different commands but distinct parts of the same command. It's a both/and not an either/or. I just want to get that out of the way at the start here and make sure that we're clear that it's not a matter of choosing one or the other. Both are part of God's good creation mandate for human creatures. In the same way, procreation and "care for orphans and widows" are not mutually exclusive. That said, I think you're right to note that we often do not know how to think very seriously about these things.

(2) I found this statement interesting: "…because of all that is necessary in birthing and raising families as our culture dictates…". The reason I find this so interesting is because I'm not convinced that our culture (which "culture", by the way?) thinks very highly of having children. For example, consider that in Canada we not only have one of the lowest birthrates in the world ( but according to a Stats Canada "Induced Abortion" report from 2005 for every 100 live births there were 28.3 abortions ( At the very least it isn't clear that we're capable of thinking about family, marriage, sex, etc. in modern Canadian society in any sort of consistent (or *Christian* sense).

(3) In relation to the article I posted (and Douthat's original article), I find it's argument convincing. Douthat notes that the decline in American fertility (and we could say much the same for Canada, I think) is caused by factors peculiar to modernity. Douthat also argues that there is a "moral imperative" behind fertility and reproduction which is most often "crowded out by other goals, other pursuits and yes, other pleasures." This is to give into what Douthat calls, decadence. Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations notes the correlation between wealth and reproduction, namely that poorer families had more children while wealthier families had fewer children. And this is an important point not to be missed. It isn't only the rich who reproduce less frequently but also a good portion of the upper-middle class. For modern families the concern is not merely a financial one but includes the concept of "opportunity and self-determination". That is to say, children simply tend to get in the way of us achieving the goals we have set for ourselves, particularly in modern times with regards to our careers, recreation, and ambitions. It should not be lost on us that this critique ("there's too many people on earth as it is!") is often heralded by the wealthy and educated. Sorry, but I distrust that inherently! Anyways, the article ( is worth a close read and the author goes on to explain how really the entire system is organized so as to make having children a difficult endeavour.

Anonymous said…
(4) OK, on to a more constructive argument, namely the "moral imperative" upon human creatures to procreate. We are both already aware of the Biblical mandate from God to be fruitful and multiply which is part of the mandate to have dominion, "to cultivate the world into glory". We should note, this is not a mandate that is binding on every individual person but rather is binding on mankind generally speaking. But this is not merely a biological mandate. Parents are also obliged to raise their children, to cultivate their character and so on and so forth. This is where care for orphans fits well. Caring for orphans means, I think, welcoming them into *this* sort of relation where they can be raised and cultivated as children.

Alright, in conclusion I would take issue with your opening quotation in the original post: "Forty years from now, it will require 2 Earths to provide sustainably for our survival as a human species. But we only have 1 Earth." Certainly the level of decadence which we now enjoy is not sustainable. But this is not a standard of living which *most* people on earth are familiar with. No, this is the standard of living which rich countries are familiar with and our appetite is seemingly insatiable. The sort of reasoning in the ROM exhibit you talk about just sounds too much like wealthy folks trying to have it all, but the all we want is the wrong all.

Forgive me if this is somewhat jumbled. Thinking on the fly! But hey, it's a start I hope.
Anonymous said…
Oh, a few more thoughts that came to mind before I go to bed (because my first response wasn't long-winded enough!).

Your suggestion (or rather the suggestion of the argument you write about here) is that the shit-storm we've made of the planet and our lack of care is somehow connected to procreation ("there's just too many people here for the earth to sustain!"). Is this so, though? I would be more inclined to think that the earth is suffering not because we're having too many children (blame the poor folks!) but because of the "other goals, other pursuits and yes, other pleasures" that rich countries push children out of the way to pursue. There is a class distinction at play in all of this talk, and let's not forget that when the earth suffers the first to suffer on earth are the poor and this isn't because they have larger families, no it's because of the oppression they face as a result of the demands of rich.
Beth said…
Ok. Brief (HA) summary/recap of the lost comment:

1. I don’t intend to create a false dichotomy, and certainly believe that it ought-not be an either-or question. However, we seem to have done a rather thorough job of procreating and less of a proper job on the creation-care. And when we’ve swung too far in one direction, it often necessitates a swing in the other direction to restore some balance…

2. I knew you’d pick up on this comment about culture! I largely was referring to the wider Canadian culture, that has, I would argue, seeped its way into the church as well. As Christians, we do not have a very holistic sense of family/marriage/sex/etc, and this is precisely the conversation I want to see more of us delving into. My frustration with the church is that where I do see this conversation happening, it often retains the western me-centric view of the world that considers my particular circumstances as the most important. That is, “I have a calling and a right to procreate, and when I reproduce, I build the number of souls in God’s kingdom, so by-golly, I’mma procreate.” (I exaggerate, I know – and I am not saying that you are guilty of this, but rather that it is the second most dominant view I encounter) rather than a global perspective that asks “What is the best use of my one small life for the furthering of the global kingdom of Christ?”

3. Yes, absolutely, the American (and Canadian) self-centredness is not conducive to building families, and this is problematic for those who love Jesus. I have great respect for my friends who are creating families and sacrificing their lives and their comfort in ways I am currently not doing. Huge, huge respect for you and Christina and many others.
Also, I can understand that hearing the “too many people on earth!” justification for lifestyle choices that preclude having children is frustrating and distasteful. However, as I know you would agree, just because some truth is misused does not make it untrue. It merely means it needs to be placed in its proper context and given its appropriate weight.

4. Yes, cultivating the world is indeed more than mere biology. Yes! I heartily believe that orphan care is a model after God’s own heart (the framework of adoption is so rich throughout scripture), and I want to see this viewed as no lesser option when it comes to how people choose to build their families.
Beth said…
5. It seems to me that you’ve entirely misunderstood the initial quote. The presentation at the ROM is speaking against the opulence you also dislike. In eco-conversations, “sustainability” is at the opposite end of decadence. The conversation is not about creating a way in which our current lifestyle is feasible; it is saying that it isn’t and we need to make changes. (Also, for the record, they make no connection to procreation – that was a connection I made entirely on my own. Rather, their action points focus on a reduction of consumption.)

6. I am not intending to blame the “shit-storm” of our planet on the dangers of procreation. Not in the least. Our human selfishness and greed is entirely to blame, and we wealthy ones are entrenched in it. There are many complications and extensions involved in this particular conversation, and indeed, class is a part of it. I am not anti-large family. I come from a family of 4, and my parents made many sacrifices for us. I’m extremely grateful. What I am trying to challenge (as I mentioned in #2) is the distorted view I’ve seen in the church regarding procreation as an antidote for much of what ails the world, while neglecting many of the other equally valid and important commands of Christ. I believe, not that Christians should not have large families, but that Christians should make their life decisions carefully and prayerfully and with a readiness to sacrifice – whether that is sacrificing the dream of biological children for the sake of adoption, or sacrificing the dream of “providing” for a child’s future education for the sake of providing for another child’s basic education in a foreign country… I think our ideas about “family” and “being fruitful” are too limited.

(figured out why the first time didn't post! it was too long, but I didn't see the alert...)
Anonymous said…
OK, I’m going to try and streamline my response to what seems to be your main concern (as we’re probably in agreement over most other points). But first, just a note. You say you’re not meaning to create a false-dichotomy but then you immediate say “when we’ve swung too far in one direction, it often necessitates a swing in the other direction to restore some balance…”. This thinking is polarizing, but again I say that procreation and creation-care are not polarities! Furthermore, I’m not convinced that we’ve “swung too far” in the direction of procreation (why do you think we’ve done so?) and I’m not convinced that swinging in the other direction brings balance, it just creates an imbalance in the other direction. There are real issues about our disregard of the Earth and our failure to be good stewards but the connection you’re trying to make with procreation still seems illogical to me (it just doesn’t follow!).
OK, now onto what seems to be your real concern. You say in your second point: “That is, “I have a calling and a right to procreate, and when I reproduce, I build the number of souls in God’s kingdom, so by-golly, I’mma procreate.” (I exaggerate, I know – and I am not saying that you are guilty of this, but rather that it is the second most dominant view I encounter) rather than a global perspective that asks “What is the best use of my one small life for the furthering of the global kingdom of Christ?”” Personally, I am not totally familiar with this argument and haven’t actually heard it used all that much but you’re right to denounce it. In fact, the growth of the Church is not premised upon procreation but upon conversion. Another one of the problems with the thinking you critique is that there is not much place for singleness. But of course, singleness and celibacy have historically always been valued by the church. In fact, at some points in history this was one of the highest pursuits for Christians (i.e. monastic communities).
Alright, in short, in a Christian worldview marriage, sex, and procreation are normative for human creatures. While they are normative, there is also room for the celebration of lifestyles that are non-normative (i.e. celibacy and singlehood). The celibate life is of no less value than the married life insofar as both are directed towards the love of God and neighbour. All of that to say, I obviously disagree with your point that creation-care requires a pendulum swing away from procreation (and I think you should reject this argument as well!). Both can and should be properly understood in light of God’s good creation and His redemptive work in Christ Jesus for this creation.
Beth said…
Thanks, JT.

Re: the false dichotomy… I don’t think they need/ought to be a dichotomy, but I think the reality is that there is tension between our current world population, cultures of living, and caring for the earth. I understand what you’re saying, and I’m not sure how to explain my thoughts on how I see these as interrelated. I will mull it over.

Yes, growth of the church depends on conversion rather than procreation – and although I don’t think you would hear the stance I said so overtly (I am not sure if I should have made it so extreme…), I’m quite sure that for many Christians, their choices to procreate are disconnected from their theology and view of God’s kingdom, but is an assumption from the church value/view of “family”, which is the core of what I find problematic.

And it’s interesting to me that you brought singleness and celibacy into this equation – I don’t believe I mentioned it at all, although you obviously know I’m writing from the stance of an unmarried individual. I really hope that my voice as a single person doesn’t lend to bitterness or jealousy towards my married friends (I actually have a post pending on just this topic) – and if it does, I want to be open to (loving) rebuke on this. Also, I don’t plan to exclude myself from being involved in family-creating even if I remain unmarried. I hope to build a family and raise children whether or not my particular family includes a spouse – Lord willing, that is, since I know my hopes & plans are ultimately not my own…

I think we’re closing to wrapping it up here. I would summarize my stance by saying that the church is in need of more thoughtful and academically-critical conversations about how we do marriage, sex, and family. I don’t think conversations on family-creation are only for the married among, and that Christians are called to consider a wide berth of factors in if/how they raise children (for some, it’s a willingness to have children. For others, it’s considering adoption, and for all, the many choices that are involved in how children are raised and developed and built into). Two factors we rarely consider (in our lives in general, let alone family-building) that I think need greater weight are the impact of our consumption and extravagant culture on the lives of those around the world and the natural world God has gifted to us.
Anonymous said…
This has been fun and good mental exercise!

Yes, I'd be interested in hearing just how you think procreation and creation-care are related. I think it's interesting to note that those heavily oil-dependant, rich countries that have unsustainable standards of living also tend to have lower birth rates than poorer countries where a more sustainable way of life is demanded.

What is the "church value/view of "family"" that you find so problematic? It's my guess that Christians procreate for reasons more related to nature (we're humans and this is what humans do) than reasons related to theology, so yes I'm in agreement for deeper and more sustained theological dialogue on this. Indeed, I do think this conversation has been going on for quite a while, it's just not on a typically "popular" level which is itself problematic. I do think Pope John Paul II "A Theology of the Body" to be quite informative. Also, "Real Sex" by Lauren F. Winner is worth a read if you haven't already (and is more accessible than JPII). But yes, lots of space for further thought!

No, you hadn't mentioned celibacy and I didn't bring it up because you're a single person but because it's obviously related. My point was simply that in conversations surrounding marriage and sex we must not forget that there is also space for singleness and celibacy. Indeed, for the Christian, whether married or single what matters is service to Christ (

Humans are made to procreate, for both natural and theological reasons. However, not every individual human need fulfill this duty. Some may forfeit that for other noble pursuits (there are less noble pursuits of course, career, finances, independence etc.), singleness/celibacy being one such pursuit.
Beth said…
JT - yep. I think we're pretty much wrapped up...

I'll try to articulate my thoughts on the connection between procreation & creation care sometime when we hang out.

The church view that I find problematic is exactly what you articulated - that we forget there is space for singleness & celibacy, and also that we procreate for "natural" reasons instead of theological ones.

I read "Real Sex" and found it insightful - not much different than my pre-existing thoughts on the matter from what I remember.

Hooray for great conversations. Thanks again :)

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