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Seven Billion People and Counting

We passed the seven billion mark for the world’s population in 2011. Some say: No problem; God will provide. Climate change? Peak oil? Water shortages? God will make it all right.

Let’s consider one of these environmental problems, overpopulation. One of television’s venerable reality shows is 19 Kids and Counting, now beginning its 11th season. It’s the story of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their 19 children. No, they don’t adopt needy children, they make them the old-fashioned way.

Their web site is full of Christian talk, links to Creationist sites, and ads for Christian products. Here they talk about birth control.

We prayed and studied the Bible and found a host of references that told us God considered children a gift, a blessing, and a reward. Yet we had considered having another child an inconvenience [by the wife taking birth control pills] during that busy time in our lives, and we had taken steps to prevent it from happening.

We weren’t sure if Michelle could have any more children after the miscarriage, but we were sure we were going to stop using the pill. In fact we agreed we would stop using any form of birth control and let God decide how many children we would have.

This is the thinking of the Quiverfull movement, whose name comes from Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” From Quiverfull.com:

We exalt Jesus Christ as Lord, and acknowledge His headship in all areas of our lives, including fertility. We exist to serve those believers who trust the Lord for family size….

What kind of childish logic is this? Maybe during the Bronze Age, people could say, “We’ll let God decide how many children we’ll have,” but today we know very well where children come from and how to avoid them.

If you drink poison, you’re not letting God decide whether you live or not; you’re deciding. If you wave a gun in a bank, you’re not letting God decide whether you get arrested or not; you’re deciding. And if you have frequent unprotected sex, you’re not letting God decide how many children you have; you’re deciding to have as many as biologically possible.

Quiverfull aficionados reject all forms of birth control. But if vaccines, antibiotics, and a clean water supply aren’t messing with God’s plan, why would contraception—not killing an embryo but simply preventing it from happening—be a problem?

Back to the Duggar family, some have defended them by noting that they’re paying their way. They’re not asking for handouts, so what’s the problem?

The problem is that the planet has a finite carrying capacity. There’s only so much oil, fresh water regenerates only so fast, and so on. To make it worse, Americans live a rich life compared to most other people. For example, the resources that support these 19 kids, assuming they consume at the rate of average Americans, could support 600 average Kenyans.

“God will provide” might satisfy a child, but adults should know better.

In a discouraging article that concludes that religious believers will simply outbreed their competitors, author Tom Rees says:

In Israel and Palestine, both orthodox Jews and religious Muslims have astonishingly high birth rates, at least in part as a consequence of waging war “by other means.” Throughout the Islamic world, those who have the most extreme beliefs are also the most likely to endorse the desirability of large families.

That other guy thinks he’ll win by having more children? We’ll have even more than that—we’ll fight fire with fire!

We find similar thinking in the U.S. Again, from Quiverfull.com:

Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement but as an army they’re building for God.

But is that the way to play the game—we just descend to the other guy’s level? Is there no role for reason here? You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight it with water!

Man once surrendering his reason,
has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous,
and like a ship without rudder,
is the sport of every wind.
— Thomas Jefferson

(This is a modified version of a post originally published 10/31/11.)

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Y. A. Warren

    You are so right. The answer is to stop thinking in terms of outnumbering and conquering, but in the justice in sharing with all. I have been advocating for conception control my full adult life. Responsible compassion dictates nothing less. I, too, make the argument that it is disingenuous for the clergy to interrupt “God’s” will by taking medication to prevent headaches and to deny the same preventative measures in the life-threatening act of pregnancy and procreation.

    I see conception control as, not a parental rights issue, but as a right of all children to be cherished. This cherishing starts before conception with preparing ourselves to provide all the resources needed: physical, financial, social, mental, and spiritual. One who lives in deprivation has no excess to hand off to their children.

    More on all of this on my blog: OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com

    • Kodie

      They don’t care about the welfare of their children. They care about glorifying god and their sacred marriage by demonstrating the power of their bond by producing a lot of children. Having a lot of children is bragging mostly about the sex life of the couple, if you can imagine it. They don’t talk about how hot it was or how intimate, and they have little interest what kind of person their child can become in the world: as long as they are all about Jesus and patriarchy and exponentially grubbing all the resources. They run a well-oiled factory, mass-producing identical or semi-identical analogous creatures, quite a bit like an animal, actually. If you know anything about animals at all, you know, look at the wikipedia article about one or another, and see what their habits and behaviors are like. I mean, do all mice have the same personality? Nobody cares, the mice just keep fucking to make as many mice as they can until they die. That’s what species do. It’s why we as humans have less regard for animals than humans, so it’s ironic when Christian breeders think they are the better of humans, who are naturally better than animals. They think they are purer for doing it married, but actually they are just breeding. They have no mind for anything at all, the psychological impact of it or individuality or anything. For all they protest forgoing “life” as an outcome of sex, and what about souls, they make cogs. They make Jesus cogs in their factory. They don’t cherish children – they cherish god, and everyone who is born dies someday, and these are their offerings to their deity. Because fucking is fun, it has to have a “downside,” the work involved in civilizing an infant to maturity, and that is their sacrifice to god to thank him for the gift he gave to humans – orgasms. Uptight patriarchal Christian orgasms. One child is work. But god, 20 is a lot of work! And then they cheat by buddying up the older ones so it cuts down, and they make it factory-like, so they don’t have the business of cherishing any individual child, they just love them all the same because they are all the same. They’re clothed, fed, and indoctrinated as if they were on an assembly line. So 20 children if you have a system is actually way easier than, say, 3 for some other family that actually shows an interest in their child. It wouldn’t work so well if they cherished any of their children, as they might feel free to outwardly express any of their emotions and disrupt the machinery.

      Now put this another way. Why are Christians so hung up on someone loving them? Because in this life, you are just a number. Nobody pays attention to you, so you find this fantasy appealing. You don’t really know what love is like, you yearn for it, and grow up warped and open to believing this god and savior see and know the inner real you, the one with pain, and developmentally isolated from true feelings. This is what they pray about, that someone in the universe recognizes their true stuff stuffed deep inside. I don’t know how deep it goes, but it still probably feels important to them. You know when you walk into a party but you don’t know anyone, that loneliness-in-a-crowd feeling, in your own family besides!

      But what they’ve come up with is a way to populate the earth while simplifying things like actual parenting and not letting reality get in the way of that. Is there something actually wrong with it? Well, I don’t know it all about ecology, but I think animal populations have a way of working themselves out unless they go unchecked? If there is no natural predator, that tends to happen. Humans are overly humane, in my opinion. Death and suffering is just wrong! Boo-hoo! We all weep when one stupid maniac shoots a lot of kids, because someone loves those kids. We all weep when some superstitious parent lets their kid die of a curable disease, while the child no longer suffers. We all agree genocide is a bad idea, as is eugenics. But these children are afflicted from birth with a poor psychology that they love so much, they have to manufacture as many blank new brains to inherit it as soon as they marry. They are doing the animal thing right, but unchecked, our population will right itself somehow. But how? Animals are equally in denial that there’s a problem, but in nature, it somehow checks itself, or the species becomes dominant, wiping out other species. We’re already doing that.

      • Y. A. Warren

        I come from a large Roman Catholic family. I recognize much of what you say as true in my family and the church community of my childhood. This is why I’m such a strong advocate for cherishing individual children as important parts of a just community..

  • Yoav

    If you drink poison, you’re not letting God decide whether you live or not; you’re deciding.

    Unless you’re a TrueChristian™ (Mark 16: 17-18)

    Back to the Duggar family, some have defended them by noting that
    they’re paying their way. They’re not asking for handouts, so what’s the
    problem?

    Are there enough reality shows and jobs at rabid anti-gay fundi organizations for all 19 kids and their kids, since I assume that the education they get mean they’re unqualified to anything else.

  • Greg G.

    Back in the 80s, there was a formula that gave a rough estimate for the earth’s population for any given year. I recall that the year was subtracted from 2012 in the denominator so that last year, it would have gone to infinity. Back then, though, the formula was still behind the actual population.

    I recall an extrapolation that if the population growth at the time was maintained, by the year 3000, humanity would outweigh the universe.

    If humans don’t deal with population growth and global warming, then they will deal with humans.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    That other guy thinks he’ll win by having more children? We’ll have even more than that—we’ll fight fire with fire!

    What I learned in evolutionary biology class: in the sort term, cheaters win. In the long term, everybody loses.

  • Carol

    This is hardly a core belief for the majority of Christians. Of course, it is always possible to take the worst in religion and compare it with the best of secular humanism, or the worst of secular humanism (atheistic communism, eg.) and compare it with the best in religion; but what’s the point?

    • Kodie

      It’s not about you Carol.

    • Pattrsn

      And come to the conclusion that all the great evil of the world is the product of mindless devotion to one absurd ideology, such as Christianity or another, such as communism.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      If I said, “Here’s is something stupid that some Christians do; therefore the claims of Christianity are false,” that would be a fallacy. I don’t do that.

      Surely you’re not asking me to focus on only claims or beliefs held by every single sect of Christianity.

    • Lewis C.

      Don’t be mislead by the title of the blog, Carol. Bob doesn’t do a lot of systematic takedown of Christian apologetics–you’ll note he doesn’t really have any educational expertise to do so, after all.

      He’s more about telling you who he is smarter than–lower-educated Americans living in red states who may or may not be religious. Why he chooses to package his elitist-driven moralizing with an anti-religious tagline is not clear–it seems to be some sort of strange ritual he undertakes. Perhaps he will make this clear at some point in the future.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        My goal here is just to brag about how smart I am? Gee–I didn’t know that. Perhaps this entire blog is a Freudian slip.

        But, hey–if things are clear to you, enlighten us all. Where I make a mistake, point it out. Where I think I’ve actually said something meaningful but have in fact said nothing, point that out as well. Don’t be shy.

        • Lewis C.

          I think it’s on you to tell us how your enlightened moral disproval of the actions of “obscure group X” is at all related a “civil” discussion of Christian apologetics. That was Carol’s point–you must be seeing a connection here the rest of us don’t.

          But I do love the atheist moralizing. Good to know moralism lives on in a world of relativism.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          I do address moral issues (abortion, gay marriage), but that’s not all I write about. But, sure, we can look at just posts that address a moral issue.

          And what is the obscure group that I’m concerned about? Bible literalists? Evangelicals? They’re not a majority of Christians, I’ll agree, but that hardly makes them obscure. Make clear what group you think I’m addressing.

          My most recent post is about Noah’s Ark (accepted by 60% of Americans–clearly not an obscure belief). Sure, that’s nutty. Perhaps you laugh at those beliefs just like I do. But then if we’re on the same page, where does your snarky attitude come from? I’m out there trying to rein in the nuts who make your religion look bad. Doesn’t that make me one of the good guys?

          Good to know moralism lives on in a world of relativism.

          I don’t know what you mean by “moralism”, but obviously morality exists within the atheist community. Problem solved.

        • Lewis C.

          Moralism is making judgments about others’ morality. You’re imposing your moral code on these large families in order to judge them morally reprehensible or irresponsible. Very puritanical in some sense.

          I have no idea what group you’re addressing here: reality stars, maybe? I’ll be sure not to take my religious cues from them. You shouldn’t either. But Carol is right: what’s the point of this?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          You’re imposing your moral code on these large families in order to judge them morally reprehensible or irresponsible. Very puritanical in some sense.

          Obviously, I’m not imposing anything, but I’m happy to judge. Are you saying that you never critique anyone’s actions in a similar manner?

          And what do you mean by puritanical here? I don’t think our definitions line up.

          what’s the point of this?

          Of this post? That religion makes people do stupid things (or alternatively, that stupid things can be justified in the name of religion).

          Why? Was that not clear?

        • Lewis C.

          Ah yes, stupid things can be justified in the name of religion.

          Who is going to argue with that?

          Since we don’t dismiss secular humanism or scientific advancement for the stupid things it has justified, we’d have trouble justifying dismissing religion on those grounds.

          Did you have a deeper argument here, or just indexing people you feel smarter than?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Ah yes, stupid things can be justified in the name of religion. Who is going to argue with that?

          Uh … the people who argue against those things? Or is this a trick question?

          Since we don’t dismiss secular humanism or scientific advancement for the stupid things it has justified, we’d have trouble justifying dismissing religion on those grounds.

          I’m happy to accept and support First Amendment freedoms of religion. I’m happy to acknowledge the good points of religion. But just like either of us will point out stupid things in secular humanism or science, I presume it’s also safe to point out stupid things within religion.

          Did you have a deeper argument here, or just indexing people you feel smarter than?

          Christianity does stupid things—how do you recommend I respond?

        • Lewis C.

          Well, since you asked…

          I’d recommend you spend your life indexing those stupid things. Build a tribe of like-minded, never-questioning atheists to cheer you on. Perhaps develop a savior complex about how you’re using logic and clear reasoning to show people how irrational their enslaving beliefs are. Hold yourself up as a model of overcoming all enslaving beliefs or flaws of human cognition.

          Whatever you do, don’t stop to ask why you only go after religion but NOT secular humanism or scientific advancement, which you admit produce stupid acts as well. Stupid religious acts are the only ones we need to bring attention to, not the stupid acts produced by our own mythologies, ideologies, and loyalties.

          And certainly, don’t ask why most people get on with their atheist lives without creating these websites full of smug moralizing over those who think differently from them. You have a sacred duty–despite how much it appears to be an insecurity or existential anxiety–that requires you to devote your life to obsessing over beliefs you don’t hold. Don’t let anyone deter you from pouring your heart and soul into this.

        • Kodie

          Stupid religious acts are the only ones we need to bring attention to,
          not the stupid acts produced by our own mythologies, ideologies, and
          loyalties.

          What are those?

        • Lewis C.

          …and here we have our problem.

        • Kodie

          We have a problem with you clarifying what you intend to communicate so we could discuss it? I’m not a fucking mindreader, pal.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          … or you could just ignore my question. OK.

  • Machintelligence

    I have a quote, but my Google Fu and memory are unable to locate the author (I’m almost certain it is by a science fiction author.)

    “Any society that practices death control must also practice birth control, or soon there will not be a place for anyone to sit down.”

    For a more rigorous mathematical treatment I recommend

    I realize it is a long lecture, but the point is made rather early on.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      You’ve created a new version of the observation that is worthy in its own right!

  • Majun3

    It upsets me a lot that human beings are considered objects to be used by others, such as those religious fanatics.

  • smrnda

    In terms of ‘trusting god’ it seems that different religious sects are just engaging in some sort of pissing contest. ‘You use birth control! You don’t trust god!” “No, WE don’t use blood transfusions, YOU don’t trust god!” It seems like all the weird things you’re supposed to trust god on by not using are set up to be an apples to oranges comparison, so each religious sect can be smug that they’re trusting god the most.

    All said I’m not sure how this philosophy is going to work out – what % of the kids raised by parents like this are going to pass on the ideology, and how many of them are going to reject it and start blogging? Plus, the economy is going south, and it’s going to be harder and harder to finance large families, so I don’t see this model being sustainable.

  • MNb

    “Is there no role for reason here?”

    Do you think there is a role for reason in the worldview of fundies like these?

  • Brudder

    If you really trust God, stop using crosswalks and waiting for green lights.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Jesus said: “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!”

  • Rob

    “The problem is that the planet has a finite carrying capacity.” Come on. Overpopulation is an empty fear. While true, technically the world is increasing in population right now, within our lifetime (less than 20 years) that trend will reverse and numbers will begin to plummet. In fact, almost every continent currently has a negative replacement birth rate. And with declining population comes its own set of problems.

    Overpopulation is not a true long-term threat like we’re being told. But this isn’t really new news. The statistics supporting this have been around for years. Unfortunately, “we’re NOT all doomed” is not exactly a message that promotes further GOV regulations, so we don’t ever hear it.

    http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/01/world_population_may_actually_start_declining_not_exploding.html

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      Last time I checked (maybe 5 years ago), the native populations of 60 countries were in decline. But, of course, that good news doesn’t mean that the population overall is going down.

      Yes, like you, I’ve heard that the population should peak at about 9 billion and then decrease. If things don’t change. A population arms race between cultures would be one such change. But let’s assume that the population will indeed go down. That doesn’t mean that aquifers won’t run dry, populations will fight over scarce resources, and so on.

      • Rob

        True, but populations will fight, till the end of time, over any/every little thing they can find to fight about. I don’t thin population trends have much to do with that.

        I’m not sure I would consider population decline “good news” exactly. Especially at the extreme rates it’s going to happen.

        Just curious… why are you expecting aquifers to run dry and resources to go scarce though? (setting aside the issue of GOV resource manipulation of course)

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

          Yes, humans like to bicker, but fresh water isn’t a little thing. That’s actually a pretty reasonable thing to fight about.

          I’m expecting aquifers to run dry because they’re being consumed at a faster rate than they’re being replenished. (Or did I misunderstand your question?)

        • Rob

          Nope, you got my question right. True, water is not a small issue.

    • smrnda

      I tend to find the threat of overpopulation assumes that birth rates don’t decrease (they do) and that we *need* a bigger next generation to take care of the current batch of old people (which forgets that per worker productivity can increase dramatically, meaning we don’t always need more people to support an aging population.) Immigration from less developed areas to more advanced countries is another mechanism that can stabilize populations – they make up for declining birthrates and reduce the number of people the developing nation has to support, and possibly send money back which can lead to higher standards of living in those countries.

      At the same time, I think the danger of the Quiverfull mentality isn’t that its going to become popular and lead to an immense population boom in the US where we already consume too many resources, but that it ends up creating a parallel society and places a strong emphasis on treating kids like property, where they exist only to become Cultural Warriors (TM) and transmit The Ideology. Even if bad child-rearing ideas don’t become popular ,they still do damage to some kids.

      In terms of resource allocation, I think private sector entities can be just as dangerous as governments in this regard, particularly with regards to things like water. Resources we need to survive are too vital to be controlled in an undemocratic fashion.

      • Rob

        Yeah, I pretty much agree. I’m not sure having large families is every really going to become ‘trendy’ though. I have a hard time seeing how that could happen. Maybe pockets of subcultures here and there, but never the whole society. But… I could be wrong.

        True about immigration. I think you’re right.

        • smrnda

          Large families are just economically unsustainable for too many people, and undesirable as well.

          I think immigration anxiety might be fueling large families in some subcultures, mostly since there seems to be a lot of anxiety about changing demographics. A lot of Christian proponents of big families will bring up the idea that Muslims are out-breeding Christians. It’s a belief about who are the *right people* to have big families.

  • erikcampano

    The kids are cute, though. Like all kids. You’ve got to admit.

    Just an observation: like many religious phenomena, Duggar family reproduction fuels an industry from which many adults profit.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

      This family is doing well, thanks in no small part to this TV show. But there are lots of quiverfull people who see that and think that God will provide. (And then, when he doesn’t, they’ll rationalize why their presupposition is still valid.) I wonder: is it irresponsible to present a TV show like this that some will interpret as giving them license to get in over their heads?

      • erikcampano

        Well, we can have a heart for the families and the kids. As to whether it’s irresponsible, probably most people are smart enough to figure out that they’re not going to become TV stars. They’re going to believe that God provides with or without the show.

        More notably: people not in the family are profiting from the spectacle. Everyone from the TV producers to the merchandising folks to most importantly the church pastors and staff benefit economically with every child the Duggars have. “Let God decide” is incredibly useful advice if you’re a religious professional who wants a big group of adherents to give you money (praise, political power, etc.).

        I’m not saying there isn’t a religious conscience behind the philosophy, but there may be other motivating factors.

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