Coded gray.

Wednesday 12 July 2000

Grain fields

Pic of the day: Fertile soil and plenty of space.


On the bus today, I read Tricycle. I sat on the left side by the window both ways, as you may guess. You don't really want people to see the title page of that magazine. Anyway, there was some Buddhist writing a long open letter to the Pope. (Hopefully he also sent it by mail, as I much doubt the Pope is a regular reader of said magazine.) The Buddhist took the Pope and the official Catholic Church to task for its view on contraceptives, and its warlike language against those who held a different opinion.

A word that appeared repeatedly in the text (but not in my dictionary) was "fecundism". Obviously it meant something like making childbearing into an ideology. Or, in this case, religion. The writer took for granted that continued explosive growth of humanity would lead to ecological disaster. That's a question in its own right, but I'd like to give some thoughs about fecundism.

It may seem strange for me to even have an opinion on this, given that I don't even attempt to reproduce. I do have my sources, though.


In fact, the first commandment in Genesis is to go forth and multiply. And this does not mean that the Lord God encouraged our first parents to study maths. Other translations make it clear that the idea was to fill the world and subjugate it, or dominate it, and rule over all living things.

One may ask by now: Perhaps we have already done that? When people actually live in Antarctis, and soon have a permanent manned outpost in outer space. When every continent and the major islands are inhabited. When millions of people live in crowded, even cramped conditions ... could it be that we have basically filled the Earth already? It seems remarkable that humanity actually does something that God asks for. We're not exactly famous for that. But this one seems to have really hit home.

Now in all honesty there is lots of wilderness here in Norway at least. Perhaps we should try and redistribute a little before we reach a conclusion. But it sure seems that we are well on our way to run past the goal post at good speed.


Things were not always this way. For most of human history, our numbers were few. Early on, there was the actual threat of racial extinction. Breeding and expanding meant a better chance of survival for our species. Of course, breeding faster than we could produce food was not a too good idea. In the late stone age and in the bronze age, this was not so much of a trouble, as there was lots of fertile land that had not yet been converted from hunting grounds to farms. But around the end of the bronze age, things started to get crowded. A new, unpleasant form of population control became widespread: War.

The iron ages societies, including the Hebrew one, faced a constant military threat. A steady supply of soldiers (and weaponsmiths and grooms etc) was necessary to defend the people, the culture and the faith. It is in this light we must see one of the clearest biblical supports for fecundity: Psalms 127, verses 3-5.
Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

You don't get it much clearer than this, do you? Children are a blessing. Why? Because they keep the enemies away. To modify a popular phrase: One child a year keeps the enemy in fear. I would honestly hope that the motivation of today's Christians is somewhat different. Since I have known oodles of extremely fertile Christians, I also happen to know that this is indeed the case. I doubt more than a few of them have really read the above quote of Scripture in context. And if they do, they probably interpret it very far from literally. Their enemies are not flesh and blood, as the New Testament points out.


So how come that some Christian denominations still rail against contraception? Mind you, I'm not talking about abortion here. Even rabid blaspheming atheists don't think abortion is fun, or anything less than an act of desperation. So what's wrong with keeping the kids from being ordered in the first place?

Well, for one thing it is unnatural. Why, so it is. But not nearly as unnatural as celibacy. I think I have the right by now to declare myself an expert on celibacy - as in "expertise" - probably at least on the level of your average cardinal. Ahem. And if you walk up to me and tell me that celibacy is more natural to a healthy human than using some simple contraceptive, I shall proceed to laugh in your face until you need two Kleenex to wipe the spittle off your saintly countenance. Sorry people, that's just beyond stupid and mired in sheer moronity to the waist and sinking fast. I have my own reasons for being celibate, but "natural" is not in there. In fact, it is not even on the road to the stairs to the front door that leads in there. (And besides, knives and forks are not natural either.)

However, there actually is a fabulous good reason for a believer to have kids, and heaps of them. Namely the fact that most people stay in the faith they were raised in. This was particularly so in days of yore, but it's still probably the most effective kind of mission. Not only do you get to sow the noble truths in the open, warm, uncorrupted baby hearts. You also get the chance to demonstrate your faith and its fruits. (Which is to say, if you don't have any, you may reconsider the whole project.) And if your faith has made you a caring, giving type of person, you get the most glorious opportunity to practice this new life day in and day out and not a few nights too.

I've met Christians who had loads of children, some of which I consider my best friends ever. People who loved and lived for the children, who would gladly give their lives for them. (And some times it may have been pretty close, too.) I have a lot of respects for these folks, certainly as much as I have for people who consider their own career and comfort the ultimate goal in life.

There were also a few sorrowful parents who kept having children because they thought it was their holy duty. They would rather have stopped, but you don't argue with the LORD or there will be hell to pay. That's just so sad. And I honestly doubt they'll get any bonus point up high for doing something their heart was not in. And not too cool for the children either, I would imagine. But as I say, this was not the rule among those I know. It may be different in different denominations.

In most of Europe at least, people don't breed enough to keep the current population levels. Europe imports about 1 million people a year. I certainly don't think it hurts if a few dedicated souls want to share their life-joy with a new generation. But enforcing mass breeding in the society at large, the way the Catholic Church in vain tries to do, is another matter entirely. It speaks volumes that some Catholic countries are already way below reproduction levels, among those Italy. Obviously the Pope's words don't reach far outside the Vatican. I think our Buddhist friend can sleep safely without fear of a new crusade anytime soon. And poverty is probably more of a threat to ecology than the frail old man in the strange clothes. Perhaps one should write an open letter to the greedy rich, next time.

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