In the Image of God

I have written previously about many different religious beliefs that cause harm to human lives, but today I intend to target a new one. This is the belief that human beings have not come into existence as the result of natural processes – or at least, not solely as the result of natural processes – but rather, that we were created “in the image of God” and owe our existence to him.

On its surface, this seems like an unobjectionable and even noble teaching, one that has been used as justification to oppose violence and other outrages upon human dignity. But it has an insidious corollary, which is this: if we were created by God, so the religious say, then we do not own our own lives. We are not the masters of our own fate, the captains of our own destiny. Rather, this teaching makes us out to be slaves, possessions, with no rights except the “right” to obey the will of God – where the role of “God” is, as always, played by the beliefs of the society in which a person lives, the church authorities whom they obey, and the teachings they have been indoctrinated with.

This tyrannical belief manifests itself in a variety of ways among the monotheistic religions. One of its more prominent outgrowths is the Christian opposition to euthanasia, the desire to deny terminally ill people the ability to end their lives with dignity and without needless suffering. However, an even more widespread implication is the belief that human beings, and women in particular, should not exercise control over their own reproductive systems but should seek to have as many children as they possibly can.

Although this fertility-cult teaching has long been embraced by the Roman Catholic church – with the appalling result that millions of children are born each year into already desperately malnourished and overcrowded areas of the world – it is now making inroads into Protestantism as well, under the movement name “Quiverfull”, a reference to Psalm 127. If anything, devotees of the Quiverfull movement are even more extreme than Catholics, eschewing not just standard methods of contraception but also the rhythm method.

Quiverfull families with a dozen children or more are not unknown. And as one might have expected, the movement also comes with a large dose of oppressive, anti-woman rhetoric about how it is a wife’s job to be submissive, to obey her husband under all circumstances, and to turn her body over to him for his use and control. Mary Pride, one of the founders of the Quiverfull movement, wrote in one of its seminal books The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality: “My body is not my own.” And it is safe to assume that many of her followers share this attitude. (The most pernicious power of religion is its ability to persuade people to acquiesce in their own oppression.)

Devotees of the Quiverfull movement are extremely conservative as a rule, and usually choose to homeschool their children. This is one facet of a larger aspect of the movement, which is its stated goal to “take back” the nation and the world for Christianity by outbreeding followers of other belief systems. As an article by Kathryn Joyce in The Nation says:

In his 2004 column for the Times, David Brooks concluded that mothers like Welch and Mays are too busy parenting to wage culture war. A home-schooling mother of nine on the 2,700-family-strong online forum Quiverfull Digest (www.quiverfull.com) responded in irritation to Brooks’s misunderstanding of the movement’s aims. Raising a large family, she replied, was itself her “battle station,” as deliberately political an act as canvassing for conservative candidates, not to mention part of a long-term plan to win the culture war “demographically.”

…if just 8 million American Christian couples began supplying more “arrows for the war” by having six children or more, they propose, the Christian-right ranks could rise to 550 million within a century (“assuming Christ does not return before then”). They like to ponder the spiritual victory that such numbers could bring: both houses of Congress and the majority of state governor’s mansions filled by Christians; universities that embrace creationism; sinful cities reclaimed for the faithful; and the swift blows dealt to companies that offend Christian sensibilities.

Despite decades of evangelizing, Christian fundamentalists have failed to triumph in the war of ideas. Indeed, their numbers are shrinking, while nonbelievers are increasing. Quiverfull parents are a response to these trends; they see themselves as workers on a brainwashing assembly line, working to churn out more believers by raising huge families in an atmosphere of intense indoctrination and isolation from all outside viewpoints. It seems apparent that they value children not for their own sake, as loved members of a family, but as additional bodies that can be pressed into service to fight a culture war. In short, Quiverfull children are not considered people; as the movement’s very name implies, they are considered to be weapons.

The Quiverfull movement also serves as another tragic example of what happens when non-evidence-supported ideas are held and defended in the name of faith. Six or seven children, let alone a dozen or more, would be a major strain on any family – not just in terms of the parents’ ability to provide for their material needs, but in terms of the parents’ ability to give each child the individual love and attention they need to develop into healthy, normal adults. Yet most Quiverfull families are not wealthy, and many are grindingly poor. (A former member of the movement describes in stark terms the poverty and deprivation often suffered by these families, as well as the abusive methods of discipline some of them employ, although I think she speaks too soon in letting them off on other counts.)

This highlights, unintentionally, why it is so important to give women control over their own fertility and the size of their family through education and contraception, and what the good results are that ensue from doing this. Quiverfull families, on the other hand, usually scorn these concerns out of the belief that God will provide for their needs as long as they have enough faith. But there is no deity magically dispensing food and possessions, like Santa Claus, to those who believe in him, and these people’s adherence to this false and naive belief system causes needless suffering both for themselves and, more importantly, for their innocent children who did not make that choice. And this is true not only in terms of hunger and poverty. It is also true on an emotional level, because this theology encourages depression, bitterness, and low self-esteem – since if the family’s needs are not always magically provided for, which is bound to be the case at times, this will lead the parents to blame themselves since they obviously “didn’t have enough faith”.

The Quiverfull movement and other religious fertility cults pose a vexing problem for an enlightened and rational society. It seems wrong for any family to burden everyone else by taking so much more than their share of the common resources, but we can hardly allow their children to live in substandard and needy conditions because of their parents’ poor choices, and it would be a horrendous violation of individual liberty to make anyone submit against their will to means of controlling their fertility. For myself, I can’t come up with a good solution to this dilemma. Thoughts?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://stupac2.blogspot.com Stuart Coleman

    There is no good solution. We have no real choice but the let them continue to do this. Even if we did try to help materially, I don’t see them accepting it, especially if they see the government as being in opposition to god’s will. Not to mention that supporting them materially would be extremely unpopular, as most people would think “they’re doing this to themselves, let them suffer”, even if their multitudes of children also suffer.

    On a final, brighter note, I think that the movement will backfire, as children who experience that upbringing may very well leave it, at the very least for a less insane, more moderate version of Christianity. Although that depends on how good these people are at their brainwashing.

  • Alex Weaver

    I think one of the things we should do about it is make every effort to publicize the material and practical effects the movement has on families and real children. I doubt the pathologically-neutral-at-best mainstream media is going to be very cooperative in this regard, though…

  • Bechamel

    I’m fond of using the idea that the religious brainwashing of a child is child abuse (an idea that occurred to me some years ago after being one of those children, only for me to find that there were others who espoused it), and taking those children away from their parents, hopefully to somewhere in the reality-based community.

    Alternately (or in addition!), I like the idea of making sterilization a condition of receiving welfare for more than say, six months, and/or declaring those on welfare for more than a couple of years to be unfit parents, and relocating existing children. All of these suggestions could be made more realistic by instituting major tax advantages for adopting, or perhaps just subsidizing its costs.

    Requiring a license for parenting just like for driving? (Like good driving tests, not U.S. ones.) Tax breaks for those found mentally competent to raise a child?

    The problem is that too many people believe that it’s a person’s inalienable right to have children and raise them however they wish, regardless of the children’s well-being. The first step would be to move from being such a parent-oriented country to a child-oriented one. But people are too busy telling others how to have sex for that to happen.

    As for something that would have more than a snowflake’s chance in Wonko’s pool hall of ever actually happening? I’m stumped.

  • James Bradbury

    I’m afraid I don’t have an answer either, so I’m going to ramble for a bit.

    Perhaps all you can do is attempt to educate people – preferable before they become indoctrinated. Although that won’t help those already in a pickle.

    Surely home-schooling should have some kind of quality control on it (I’ve no idea if this is the case)? I’ve long thought faith schools to be a kind of apartheid for kids. Everyone should get to mix with people different from themselves. Maybe there’s some way we can persuade people to mix more?

    I agree with Stuart, that it will probably backfire and people will leave it. At least in the west there are other options. I suppose all we can do is make those options as obvious and accessible as possible.

  • Javaman

    Mass media may help as I cruise through my satellite channels in the lower 200s. There seems to be 10-20 Christian broadcast networks suckering people for money. I often thought, “Hey, why not an atheist channel smack in the middle of all of these Christian channels?” Privately or publicly funded. If the federal government is in the business of doling out money to faith-based charities, could a suit be brought for equal money for an atheist point of view? How about an atheist cartoon network that would be specifically aimed at young, developing minds?

  • valhar2000

    I agree with James. The only thing we can realisticly do is to make the disadvantages of that lifestyle obvious (by talking about them often and to many people) and hope that some of those children will hear this and leave. Some of those children will hear it, I have no doubt, but I am not sure how many will, and if they will be enough. It is the only hope we have, though.

  • Garinus

    While I can see the reasoning behind Javaman’s idea, I also see it as a form of reverse brainwashing. The problem is, young children are almost guaranteed to accept any concept pushed upon them by adults. As we’re no doubt all aware, it’s a natural instinct for absorbing knowledge and surviving in the big wide world. Hence, whether it’s Muslim parents ‘teaching’ their kids about Islam, or Christian parents with Christianity, or atheist parents about atheism, they aren’t able to make their own decision on the matter. Unable to distinguish between fact and opinion, their beliefs just clone those of their parents’ and their society.

    We are seeing a decline in this trend throughout all of Western culture, though. You’ll notice that it’s exceptionally rare for a kid born in a Muslim country to convert away from Islam – and even if they do, those countries tend to be so theocratic that they’re executed or forced into exile for daring to think for themselves. This was even more true for Christianity in the Middle Ages, where atheism was synonymous with immorality, and atheists were as real as actual demons.

    So why is this no longer the case in America, Britain, Australia, Germany, France and all the other democratic first-world countries? Simply enough, our culture allows freedom of thought, and takes on a much more liberal form of education. For a long while, ‘blasphemers’ might have been imprisoned. When this ridiculous practice went out of fashion, they were simply ostracized – a significant threat, but still a much weaker tactic than the strategy that fundamentalist countries employed. As a result, this allowed a freethinking minority to form – and once that happened, in spite of all discrimination and blind hatred surrounding them, they encouraged science and critical thinking, which challenged age-old religious doctrines and allowed others to think for themselves as well.

    The point I’m trying to make is that if you want a nation full of freethinkers, you’re not going to get it by brainwashing them towards the ideology. You’re going to get it by removing all traces of indoctrination, especially during childhood. I’ve seen ample evidence of this, in the form of friends, great thinkers and even myself. Remove the factors of indoctrination and social pressure, make religion an actual choice and implement powerful and objective education throughout the world, and the vast majority will become freethinkers within a generation or two.

    Not only am I convinced of this point, I’m also certain that doing so would actually solve all of the world’s problems in the long term. I can elaborate on that point if anyone is interested.

    Of course, I also recognise the massive obstacles in our way to this goal. Beyond petty child-abusing organisations like Quiverfall, we’re faced with the vast monopoly of churches, the airtight faith of Islam and an immense population of uneducated people who need to care more about surviving to see the next day than fixing the world. Certainly a challenge. Nonetheless, education is the answer to solving indoctrination, and in the end, we will have little choice but to try.

  • http://proteancomics.comicgenesis.com Proteus454

    Alternately (or in addition!), I like the idea of making sterilization a condition of receiving welfare for more than say, six months, and/or declaring those on welfare for more than a couple of years to be unfit parents, and relocating existing children.

    You know…I think “get your goolies snipped for being unable to find work”, I don’t think “tolerant progressive society”.

  • http://proteancomics.comicgenesis.com Proteus454

    The point I’m trying to make is that if you want a nation full of freethinkers, you’re not going to get it by brainwashing them towards the ideology.

    Who said anything about brainwashing? Is the very notion of an “Atheist” television network – in the sense that in doesn’t involve any gods and actively points out the foolishness of believing in things that don’t exist every so often – analogous to brainwashing by definition?

    Only in the same manner that Atheism is itself a religion, and bald is a hair colour etc. etc.

    Heck no, I say go for it. It needn’t be preachy. It needn’t be so utterly tin-eared as Christian Rap, Rock, TV Shows, etc. It only needs to make people think, and entertain them at the same time…

  • http://proteancomics.comicgenesis.com Proteus454

    Anyway, to deal with the problem Ebonmuse outlines with customary aplomb, it’s true that we can’t force anyone to do the right thing, nor can we march up in force and wrest the tykes away from these latter-day barbarians – tempting as it may be to fantasize such reckless and unfair behaviour in our darker moments.

    I can’t really offer any concrete solutions myself, but I can tell you what we DON’T do, fellow freethinkers. We do NOT let it go.

    We challenge these fools at every turn. We question their nonsense at every opportunity. We fight for more and better education. We point out, without malice and without mercy, the consequences of their deplorable ways and their underlying motivations whenever we get the chance.

    The more of us, and more often, the better.

  • bassmanpete

    Compulsory state education for ALL children on at least one day a week?

    The trouble with “tolerant progressive societies”, much as I love living in one, is that organisations like Quiverfull can take advantage of the freedoms available to turn them into something that is neither tolerant nor progressive.

  • gkeithman

    Very interesting way to confront two of your pet peeves, euthanasia and abortion. I DON’T believe that the true Christian relationship with their eternal god encourages anyone to forcefully or governmentally stop an individual from euthanasia or prevent a mother from aborting her baby, whereas religions do lay down laws like that. I DO believe that relationship requires them to love the individuals that are suffering so much that they are contemplating euthanasia, for they believe that individual is extremely valuable, not only to them but to their god.

    That would apply to the girl or woman, who through abuse, trajedy, stupidity or ignorance became pregnant and did not know what to do with their child. I DON’T think that your comment about DESPERATELY MALNOURISHED AND OVERCROWDED has much to do with the types of abortions that these Christians are protesting. I DO believe they are required by their god to love that female and that child, and to encourage them towards a state of wholeness.

    I DO believe that they would more appropriately be putting on “sackcloth and ashes” over the conditions they are protesting, rather than holding up photos of aborted babies. I DON’T believe that Christianity would ever require them to protest, legislate, or make fools of themselves challenging abortion doctors on the street. I DO believe that they have the right to protest and call attention to their point, just as so many others we respect have the right to make their points.

    If Mary Pride of Quiverful wants to dedicate her body to her god, then she has the right to. If that decision brings her to a place of total peace, great. If it brings her to a place where she is constantly trying to appease a god she only knows by “brainwashing” and “religious” teaching, then she has missed the point of Christianity all together. In one respect, like Buddhism, it is a one-on-one deal with their inner- self, only the Christian inner-self is the presence of their god in them.

    I think your concern with “brainwashing” is overdone, because, like Proteus454, I see Atheism as a religion also, and it will brainwash just the same as any other system has (Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, and all other little ism’s). Javaman’s desire for an Atheist TV channel is too little, too late. Most channels are atheistic already (check out Master Ted’s work from Atlanta), making sure that god is only spoken of in an unconvincing way.

    I personally do not embrace homosexuality, but do not protest any homosexual’s right to do something that they want to do. Maybe the “sackcloth and ashes” would be appropriate here. I think that the homosexual “powers that be” have more “advertising ability” than most of the Christians do. They work hard to get their point across pretty effectively. Maybe more so than any Christian systems. I don’t think that the Christians are really organized effectively, but maybe that’s good. Depends upon how you look at it.

    I think that you should take a breather and enjoy your right to be an Atheist.

  • andrea

    These “quiverful” lunatics should not be provided for. They made their choice, let them deal with it. Will it harm the children? Of course. But until society realizes that just because you can breed doesn’t make you a good parent, we’re stuck with it. If what I heard is right, the military has stopped increasing benefits for its members with large families because it became a racket. Should we do less here?

    As for home-schoolingm, it is just brainwashing. If one’s faith is so strong, why be afraid of the real world?

    And atheism isn’t a religion. Religion depends on one “truth” that one must obey beyond all others and punish all others for not doing it. I really don’t care if Mary Pride misses the “point” of Christianity, but in my view she hasn’t. the Bible really does say that a woman isn’t worth much, that the only way a woman is “saved” is through childbirth, etc. It’s that old thing that I don’t think any two Christians have ever agreed on what their faith/religion really means.

  • Freeyourmind

    I think the most important combatant to this absolutely ridiculous way of thinking, is public education as someone mentioned above. Not public education in terms of public schooling because as was shown, they will actually avoid public schooling when possible (God forbid letting your kids learn real history…no pun intended). But rather, public education like using our some television time for education rather than advertisements for the next prescription drug. Flyers, books, websites, mailings, etc… Proper education should come from all angles.

    Of course I realize that what is defined as “proper education” varies family to family….which brings us right back to where we are today. But some are absolute such as sex education and contraception.

  • Archi Medez

    Religions have been regulating reproduction as a way of attaining and maintaining political power for thousands of years. There should be no secret as to why Muslims and Christians are now the largest, and thus the most powerful, religions in the world: They have the most babies. That single factor, combined with other factors such as their requirement to inculcate their ideology in the children, may be the main reason why the modern world still has so many people who are walking around with bronze- and iron-age ideologies implanted in their brains. It is, from an evolutionary standpoint, a successful strategy whereby certain memes and genes are perpetuated more so than others.

    These religious folk have realized that whoever has the most babies controls the future of society. It is precisely for this reason that I agree strongly with everyone above who has emphasized education, freedom of expression, free exchange of ideas, and so on. Without those checks in place–or to the extent that those checks are not operating fully–any ideological group can attain power through demographic capture.

    Obviously, the solution is not for non-believers to engage in some kind of breeding contest with believers (e.g., it would be even more straining on the planet’s limited resources, would cause more pollution, and so on). Nevertheless, as long as it remains the case that believers tend to have more children than non-believers, we will continue to have to do everything we can to maintain a free marketplace of ideas where religious ideas do not enjoy a privileged status and are not used for purposes of political control. As long as religious ideas are open to criticism, the efforts at demographic conquest by religious groups will be kept in check; their children, by college- or university age, will be mostly non-believers or at best some kind of agnostics or weak deists. Indeed, I think we need to increase our efforts, in developing further the efforts of people like Dawkins, Harris, Rushdie, and others. Otherwise, we may lose everything we have gained; the freedoms we enjoy now will be replaced by theocracy and a return to the dark ages of ignorance, superstition, misogyny, terror, torture, slavery, etc.

  • Chris

    I think the pessimism on this thread may be overstated. Reproduction is slow – despite the fanatics’ best efforts, their generation time is still measured in decades. Education can be done in years or even months. Even the old tyrannical societies that punished dissent with death eventually cracked and gave way to societies that uphold freedom of religion; within free societies religions are losing ground steadily. They won’t be able to regain through reproduction what they are losing much faster through deconversion.

    That being said, if they are beating and starving their children something damn well ought to be done about *that* at least. I don’t see how you can say “nor can we march up in force and wrest the tykes away from these latter-day barbarians” when you’re talking about actual and obvious child abuse and deprivation. It may not be possible, or even desirable, to define indoctrination qua indoctrination as abuse, but if the parents resort to violence to force their children to comply with the indoctrination, that *is* abuse by existing social and legal standards, and should be dealt with as such.

    Promoting the concept that the needs and rights of the child outweigh those of the parent in considerations of custody, etc. is probably the most effective long-term strategy (as well as being a good idea for its own sake). Once the state considers acting as arbiter of the child’s well-being, it cannot give weight to the parents’ religious beliefs without violating its obligations to remain religiously neutral. The state must and will decide on mundane grounds, and on mundane grounds those “families” look like a pretty horrible setting for any child to grow up in.

  • schemanista

    Don’t these movements wind up marginalizing themselves and ultimately create their own underclass?

    I don’t think that “Quiverfull” will ever be more than a fringe movement and they’ll never compete, numbers or no, in a global, information-rich economy. I do feel bad for the thousands of children who will be born into a legacy of appalling ignorance, but I’m cynical enough to realize that this is going to happen anyway.

    Get the word out. Shine the light of reason on these practices and hope for the best.

    Me? I got snipped after our first and only child. In 20 years, I’ll bet her university-educated mind against an entire quivering village.

  • http://badger3k.livejournal.com/ Badger3k

    “If Mary Pride of Quiverful wants to dedicate her body to her god, then she has the right to. ”

    She has a right to. Whether she has the right to force others to do so is the bigger question. Forcing this ideology down the throats of children is wrong. Personally, I think all children should be exposed to as many religious and ideological systems as possible, along with a critical examination of all the evidence for the various claims. Of course, this would start out simple and get more complex as the children age, as (sort of) happens with education. We should never encourage any kind of unthinking acceptance of an atheistic viewpoint, but we should sure expose children to the arguments, so that when they are able to, they can freely make up their own mind.

    For an atheist tv show, we have one in Austin (I can only get it as a podcast, but they are making dvds of shows available) – see http://www.atheist-experience.com/

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    I’m about as worried about these folks “taking over” (whatever that means) as I am/was about the Branch Davidians “taking over.”

    These are fringe people, through and through. The “just 8 million families” starting point sounds GALACTICALLY optimistic (or pessimistic) to me. These people will never recruit 8 million families. They will never recruit 1 million families, at least not in the First World. I’m even highly skeptical of the “2,700 families” supposedly on that listserve (what, did they just count the number of comments or the number of posters and assume that everyone was a unique, hardcore member of the “movement”?). Franky I think this is probably like a lot of other modern religio-political movements: A dark little core of true believers and articulators, then a vast penumbra of fringe members and hangers-on. Probably a lot of mothers and fathers who call themselves “Quiverfull” people out of political frustration or even genuine religious feeling . . . and then tuck their 2.5 children into bed and go downstairs to watch a Tivo full of Desperate Housewives.

    And what of those true believers who DO have 8-12 kids? If you follow the link to Womensspace that Ebonmuse gives, you’ll find out that most of these families don’t have the resources to support themselves. A “demographic” strategy toward winning the culture war sounds great . . . in theory. It seems to me from reading that woman’s own testimony on the link that most Quiverfull folks are in such dire straits that all their energy is devoted to survival, rather than, say, penning letters to the New York Times or obtaining positions of elected power in the government, media, education, etc.

    I’m worried about these people only in a qualitative, not a quantitative way; the same way I’m worried about the Aryan Nation nowadays: They’re a group of people with abhorrent, destructive ideas. But they aren’t a mass threat.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    Oh something else: As much as it pains me as an atheist to say it, the meek really do seem to inherit the Earth. Groups and nations that devote themselves to violent or even quasi-violent “conquest” of the Earth seem to die out fast. Fascists, communists, the imperial Japanese, the Mongols, the Huns, the Pan-Arab movement, (the Branch Davidians): They all burn hot and fast and then collapse completely–destroyed from the outside or else absorbed by the very people they set out to dominate–sometimes in just a few years. I may be stretching the metaphor, but the “permanent Republican majority” in America didn’t even last as long as the “1,000-year Reich” (11 years vs. 12 years).

    It’s comforting to remember this anytime one is confronted with depictions of dark new tribes on the horizon.

  • schemanista

    Well said, J.

    This is a problem that solves itself. However frightening The Handmaid’s Tale is to contemplate, movements like this will never gain mainstream traction in the developed world.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    A response for Bechamel’s comment:

    Alternately (or in addition!), I like the idea of making sterilization a condition of receiving welfare for more than say, six months, and/or declaring those on welfare for more than a couple of years to be unfit parents, and relocating existing children.

    I find that idea to be shockingly intrusive, don’t you? Being poor isn’t a crime, and it doesn’t make someone an unfit parent. For one thing, this policy would mean that people who become disabled and are unable to work for an extended time would necessarily lose custody of their children. That seems far too reminiscent of eugenic policies of the past, most of which were thinly disguised cover for some racist agenda or other.

    I would never countenance mandatory sterilization. However, I could see arguments for a policy where, as a condition of receiving substantial government aid, a person would have to agree to use some safe, reversible method of contraception for the duration. The infringement on personal liberty would be minimal, and it would eliminate what would otherwise be a perverse incentive to have more children in order to qualify for increased benefits.

    Also, I thought Chris’ comment that breeding new believers takes generations, whereas ideas spread exponentially faster, to be especially insightful, and the perfect illustration of why free speech and open debate are so important. The question is often asked, and has been asked in this thread, how a democracy should deal with people who reject its principles and move in solely as an attempt to take it over through increasing their numbers. I think this is the answer. In a society where no idea gets a free pass from criticism, extremism has a much harder time taking hold. This is undoubtedly an important lesson to Europe, which is struggling to deal with a huge influx of Middle Eastern and Muslim immigrants and at the same time is still talking about censoring free speech to shelter religious groups from offense.

    It’s often said that people only rarely convert from the religion they’re brought up with, and on an individual scale this is true. But the other side of the coin is that on a societal timescale, ideas can spread and gain a following with startling rapidity compared to the mean time between generations. I think our time may be witnessing such a transition, if we can successfully capitalize on it.

    Also, I liked this comment by J:

    Franky I think this is probably like a lot of other modern religio-political movements: A dark little core of true believers and articulators, then a vast penumbra of fringe members and hangers-on.

    I would add as a corollary that the most seriously demented cults – like Scientology or the Moonies – only rarely gain any kind of societal traction, as worrisome as their beliefs are. That’s because these groups, by their nature, appeal almost exclusively to the outcasts and others on the fringes of society who have found no acceptance elsewhere. Their growth is self-limiting. For a religion to shed its early cult status and move into the mainstream, it inevitably has to shed at least some of its mose bizarre ideas and become packaged and commercialized in a way that’s palatable to the masses, and this tends to blunt the most radical elements of its theology. We can see this pattern play out many times in history, not least with Christianity itself.

  • http://www.johnnysstew.com/cool/coolwet J

    For a religion to shed its early cult status and move into the mainstream, it inevitably has to shed at least some of its mose bizarre ideas and become packaged and commercialized in a way that’s palatable to the masses, and this tends to blunt the most radical elements of its theology.

    Verily. On a tangential note, Gregg Easterbrook is about 50% weird and crazy (i.e. “all manned space travel should be abandoned”), 50% sane and sensible and one of the things he’s said in the “sane” category is that he theorizes one of the reasons Christianity was able to spread so rapidly in its early years (say, A.D. 100 to A.D. 300) was because the church fathers, early on, decided to drop any requirement that new male converts get circumcised. Might sound odd at first, but if you think about it, given the quality of early 1st-millenium surgery, adult circumcision would be a MAJOR stumbling block to a religion’s appeal.

  • Goca

    Very sad reading this article; actually, very scary. As a mom of 7 myself (NOT Quiverfull – my kids are aged 22 through 5), I used to post on Large Family boards, simply for friendship; however, after a while, I found out that I was unwelcomed by those that had Quiverfull leanings, as our philosphies on many things are very different.

    I find that there is not much one can do as some of the people that post on these large family boards ARE Quiverfull, and they do maintain the type of beliefs as described in the article. People like the Duggars (now pregnant with their 17th child) are glorified and idealized; put on a pedestal, as “this is what you need to aspire to”. I was astounced, and continue to be astounded by what I read. What I read about constantly is about the (1) non-respect by others in the community, how others don’t “understand them, (2) how family does not understand them or support them, (3) poverty (how do I stretch $20 for a week’s worth of groceries to feed 10 people), (4) job loss of the breadwinner, (5) things breaking down, not having money for this or that, just abject poverty in some cases, yet another pregnancy is announced a short time later, and this is again, “one of God’s blessings”. (6) Going crazy trying to have more children while raising current children while homeschooling and everything else.

    I’ve read posts with women that have almost bled to death after giving birth, I’ve read posts with people having cancer, brain tumor, dangerously high blood pressure, diabetes, etc., and still the thought is that the more children (and continued pregnancies) the merrier. I also read that girls are to be educated and trained as “mothers” even when they are little girls. Truthfully, if anything, I see the opposite happening. As some of these kids grow up (especially girls), they will be leaving their house and home, and some may never come back.

  • Jeff McLaughlin

    It seems to me that railing against Quiverfull and going the direction of the voluntary human extinction movement (not neccessarily all the way but at least to depopulation) is just playing into Islam’s hands. Islam isn’t going to suddenly stop breeding and to reduce the numbers of fundamentalist Christians is just a strategic mistake. I’m an atheist but I’m gratefull to the fundamentalist Christians for A) having the balls to admit that Islam is a menace and B)not dragging me out into the street to behead me. So I’m actually glad Quiverfull is doing what they’re doing.Sharia law will be a hell of a lot harder on the gays, on women, on kids than fundamentalist Christians will so I’ll take the Christians unless atheists have a way of stopping Islam or are suddenly more willing to admit it’s entirely fucked up. Too many atheists seem to have this ‘I’m ok/you’re ok’ mentality when it comes to Islam.

  • Angela

    If you think for one minute that these fundamentalist Christians wouldn’t try to forcefully impose their belief system on you, you got another thing coming. A lot of these fundie Christians have nothing against imprisoning you for not believing in their god. Some of them think they should be able to kill you. This Quiverfull movement believes that ultimately they will wage a war against Satan and his minions which includes Athiests and their “spiritual arrows” i.e. their children will defeat you. As in kill you. So if you think the Islamists are bad, which most of them aren’t, look out. I am so glad to have helped defeat that Palin broad because we would have been one step closer to losing our freedoms as non-Christians. I think you have no idea what kind of dangerous Christians we have in this nation. They have the same ideas as these Islamic people you fear so I think you need to rethink this. Your very life is at stake as far as these Quiverfull nutcases are concerned. Don’t feel so smug.