Doug Phillips on the Threat of Population Decline

Doug Phillips on the Threat of Population Decline March 1, 2012

I recently ran across an article on Vision Forum president Doug Phillips’ blog, in which he repeats a line I heard so often growing up: Our world isn’t facing an overpopulation crisis, but is rather headed toward a demographic decline that will result in economic catastrophe. In other words, having 12+ children doesn’t contribute to overpopulation but rather serves as a way to fight and avert the potential problems of demographic decline.

This idea is frequently put forward by the conservative Christian news magazine World, and has been the subject of several documentaries, including Demographic Winter and Demographic Bomb. It shouldn’t be surprising that this idea was put forward in the 1970s by the man who single-handedly created dominionism, Rousas Rushdoony himself. Based on these ideas, Vision Forum, which sells Rushdoony’s books and supports his views, recently held a pro-mass-reproduction event called the Baby Conference.

Doug Phillips’ blog post begins by addressing the population declines in Russia:

Once a feared superpower, Russia’s might is fading as their population declines.

Boasting the largest land mass of any nation on earth, the Russian Federation’s population is smaller than both Pakistan and Bangladesh and is decreasing 0.5% each year. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned that, if this trend continues, the Russian population will likely decrease by as much as 50 million people during the next generation. Russia’s vast expanse, Putin argued, could turn “into an ‘empty space’,” resulting in “a geopolitical ‘void.’”

Putin, who is seeking a third term as President in March, recently made a campaign pledge to offer monetary subsidies to Russian parents with three or more children. Not surprisingly, this proposed policy to reward childbirth was met with scorn by many who were nourished on anti-child propaganda in the former Soviet Union. One woman opined, “Putin is like a God. He will restore the birthrate and save Russia. Oh Prometheus!”

This is standard for those arguing that we are faced with a “demographic winter;” European countries facing negative population growth rates are frequently cited, along with the huge aging population and comparatively small youth population in places like Japan. We see this below:

Mocking aside, astute demographers are sobered by the startling inevitability of a “Demographic Winter” that will soon grip not only Russia, but many other industrialized nations as well, including Japan, the US, and the countries in Western Europe. This fact is well documented in such films as Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family and Demographic Bomb, and was thoroughly explored at Vision Forum’s Baby Conference.

Doug Phillips next addresses the cause of this huge demographic problem:

This looming global crisis hasn’t happened by accident. It has been fueled by an agenda at war with God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, a worldview of selfishness that says that it’s better to have another car in the garage and a bigger 401k plan than it is to welcome more precious souls into the world through the fruit of the womb. We have valued pretty things and “security” above the blessing of children, and our myopic hedonism is hurling much of the world toward economic disaster.

The enfeebling of our old Cold War nemesis should prod us to humility. Rather than gloating over Russia’s struggles, we should realize that our nation is only a few steps behind in its moral and economic decline due in large degree because we’ve rejected fruitful wombs for more immediate temporal niceties.

It’s time we cherish children above “things” and embrace them as our greatest reward this side of heaven.

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)

The problem, Phillips argues, is that we have ceased to value God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.” The solution is to put the second car and the 401K play on the back burner and start having more children. We need to reject selfishness and hedonism and instead start welcoming more precious souls into the world.

Phillips sets up a dichotomy here: If you don’t want more children (or any at all), you are selfish; if you have multiple children, most especially 6, 8, 10, or more from the looks of the pictures featured on the Baby Conference website, you are following God’s commands. It’s easy to see how susceptible people can fall prey to Phillips’ teachings and to the rhetoric of the Quiverfull movement.

The trouble is of course that choosing to have only one or two children, or even none, does not mean one is automatically “selfish.” There are all sorts of ways to give back to the world and to those around us, to work to make the world a better place, outside of having children. Furthermore, wanting to give each child the best we can, or to raise children with economic security, is not selfish.

On the contrary, because we live in a country that uses exorbitant amount of finite resources, every additional child we have leads to additional environmental strain and potential for resource wars or economic problems down the road. Choosing to have six or eight children, then, is not somehow being “selfless” when it comes to our environment, economy, or the world. Further, choosing to have that many children might mean, for some, raising children in poverty and on the edge of economic disaster. I don’t see this as being very “selfless” either.

Here we also see the tendency of Christian Patriarchy groups to advocate a one-size-fits-all model for families. The truth is, every family is different, with different needs and different challenges. The idea that every family should start having child after child in order to “follow God’s command” and not be “selfish” is stifling and restricting. It’s also environmentally dangerous for several reasons.

Not unexpectedly, Phillips rejects the idea that a continually expanding population could lead to environmental catastrophe or resource wars or food shortages. Why? Because (a) God told us to be fruitful and multiply, not to be fruitful and multiply until there are enough people; (b) God has said that only he can destroy the earth; and (c) the earth was created to meet our needs and will therefore always be adequate. This is (a) dependent on the existence of God and divine nature of the Bible, (b) stems from a fairly fundamentalist and literal interpretation of the Bible, and (c) runs contrary to what we know – resources are limited, and mankind can destroy, or at least very much damage, the earth (imagine what a nuclear war would do, for instance).

Finally, do you notice how very nativist this entire idea is? Phillips ignores the fact that the populations in most parts of the world are booming. The trouble is that our populations, the populations of white Western Christendom, face decline. Kathryn Joyce addresses this nativism, especially as connected to Europe, in an excellent article here.

Fixing the world by making more babies sounds like a colossally bad idea to me. I would rather work to fix the world by helping those around me, supporting social justice and environmental justice, and extending my hands to all of humankind regardless of color. Rather than looking no further than my own home, I want to embrace the world and seek global well-being. But more than anything, I am simply glad that I no longer have blinders on telling me that the best thing I can do for the planet and the future is be a baby-making machine.

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