Religion, birth control, and population growth: a real mindfuck

Apr 12, 2012

The Catholic Church‘s position on birth control is completely unequivocal: don’t use it for it’s against God’s will. Judaism, while it doesn’t outlaw birth control, views its use as a personal issue, not existentially tied to the Earth’s ability to sustain population growth. Islam, in general, is aligned against most forms of contraception and birth control. Hinduism, which is said to praise both large and small families (procreation no matter the size), isn’t explicitly against birth control. However, one need only look at the population of India, at nearly 1.2 billion, which includes Hindu and Muslim majorities, to see that a culture of reproduction exists.

China, which has no religion (other than state totalitarianism and followers of Taoism and Confucianism), is really the only large population of people that has taken a vocal interest in controlling its population. In Africa, a variety of folk religions abound, and although these religions have no great leaders or clerical systems, they control significant portions of the African population—a population that cannot be sustained with desertification and the resultant food shortages.

While in any religion or country’s population there exist counter-cultural forces when it comes to birth and population control, I’m more or less concerned with the recognized leaders of the major religions, like the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Pope of the worldwide Catholic Church, and the various leaders of the Islamic (whether state or tribal) and Hindu faiths, as they comprise the lion’s share of the world’s religions. Chiefly, however, I’m most interested in the Abrahamic religions.

In considering their positions, which are at worst hostile to birth and population control and at best neutral or non-committal, one is presented with two religion-infused scenarios: 1) Earth’s natural resources can sustain an ever-expanding population fueled by an unchecked and, one might say psychopathic, drive to exponentially expand a country’s abundance through market forces, whether free market or mixed economy, etc., or 2) God’s divine providence will somehow provide for the masses (wishful or magical thinking).

While these two points are worthy of discussion, it seems that a third point exists that might be particular to at least two, if not all three of the Abrahamic religions. It is the possibility that the leading clerics in Christianity, Islam and Judaism occupy a third position—they believe the Earth cannot sustain human civilization and that only divine intervention will remedy the situation, which they then accelerate by encouraging people to procreate freely, while condemning the very ideas of birth and population control.

Consider it for a moment: what better way to hasten the apocalypse than standing by as the human race hurls headlong toward ecological catastrophe. Well, this is what civilization gets when billions of the faithful blindly follow religious leaders who have no real understanding of entropy in both ecosystems and economies, or interest in making sensible existential decisions for their flocks.

This is not to say that there aren’t progressive voices in the three Abrahamic religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Pamela Taylor, co-founder of Muslims for Progressive Values and former director of the Islamic Writers Alliance, is a strong supporter of the female imam movement and has an enlightened view of population and natural resources.  In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Taylor wrote:

Just as we would expect children to enjoy a playground we built for them, but not to steal the chains off the swings, uproot the slide, and chop up the climber for firewood, so too we should use, not abuse the Earth. At this point in human history, that means taking full advantage of the means Allah gave us to control our own population.

The Committee on Women, Population, and the Environment notes, “Euro-American Christian feminists, such as Sallie McFague, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Catherine Keller, and Christine Gusdorf, devote much of their writings on population to analyzing the relationships between overconsumption, socio-economic injustice and population growth.”

CWPE, however, takes issue with the aforementioned Christian feminists’ research and methodology; specifically, how their writing is racialized and a lack of references to Third World women writing about population. (Read the article for more background.) Of course, these writers are not alone in the Christian population—other individuals and groups have weighed in on the question, but one can naturally expect the blame to be placed on those who get pregnant out of wedlock, the “heathen” masses, or those on the Left.

As Ken Connor wrote in a 2009 article in the Christian Post:

Most would agree that conserving resources and minimizing adverse impacts on the environment make sense, but something has gone terribly awry within the Green Movement. Environmental extremists championing “population control” as a means of protecting Mother Earth show that they have little regard for the human species…

A more balanced perspective is needed-a humanistic (note the small “h”) perspective. If western society wishes to preserve itself and occupy a healthy place in the future of the planet, it must restore the institutions of marriage and family to their rightful place and start having children again. We should not sacrifice the vitality of Western society on the altar of a radical left-wing social agenda. There are plenty of ways to live responsibly, reduce our carbon footprint, and care for the earth without making ourselves extinct.

No one on the Left is calling for the extinction of humanity, but that doesn’t stop Connor from spewing his hyperbolic propaganda to the Christian faithful at the expense of environmentalists, who simply want a world that preserves the ecosystem for all Earth’s creatures. The Abrahamic religions, which entrust humanity with dominion over the world, places human beings above every living creature on Earth and, indeed, the ecosystem. It’s a rather psychotic point-of-view, or at least sociopathic, in that it serves as a break from the reality that humanity depends on an ecosystem to sustain its existence.

On the other end of the Christian spectrum, there is the Mormon Church, which, although it attempts to distance itself from polygamy, clearly values and elevates to a fine art very large, fertile families. This is beyond dispute. It finds its analogue—and, frankly, I don’t care if it’s inflammatory—in the reproductive endeavors of the Nazi’s Lebensborn (“Spring of Life”): a program to produce more and more pure Germans. The Mormons, conversely, are in the religious business of producing more and more Mormons.

Judaism, on the other hand, is heavily underpopulated, and this effects its views on population control, as noted by Yossy Goldman in an article at Chabad.org. But Judaism gave birth to the official reproductive paradigm of “be fruitful and multiply.” Yes, this was an order to reproduce issued by the universal potentate God when humans were scarce; or, just Adam and Eve, if one believes the Book of Genesis is an historical document.

To a good number of religious folks (40% of Americans, according to a 2010 Gallup poll), humans were created by God 10,000 ago. Allowing for a moment that people ultimately believe what they want (despite scientific evidence to the contrary), one must wonder if the religious young Earth proponents (is there any other kind?) have ever thought for a moment that if the human species was able to multiple exponentially from a single couple or a small gene pool to 7 billion people in 6,000 to 10,000 years, can that exponential rate be sustained for even a hundred years, let alone another six to ten millennia?

Again, I am not suggesting that the faithful from the Abrahamic religions (including Mormonism), Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism and the various other folk religions around the world (in China, Africa, etc.) are all guilty of demonizing birth control and unwilling to recognize its potential role in reducing the world population. I only suggest that the leaders of these religions are unwilling for whatever reason—whether its religious delusion, cowardice, lack of awareness, or some other factor—to tackle the issue of population control in a sensible way.

As leaders of their particular worldview, they have the pulpit, so to speak, the resources, and the energy to effect change; but, as always, they are at least officially a force of stasis or regression in the world.

Though this polemic was aimed at religion, there are no doubt non-secular, atheist and agnostic individuals in the world (some of whom may even adopt religion as a means to attain power) who are unwilling to think deeply about how capitalism and population growth are helping to strain Earth’s natural resources to the breaking point.

As it stands, though, the religious seem to display a lack of concern one way or another for humanity’s destiny on Earth, because, of course, paradise lies in some eternal realm where everyone is happy, everyone gets their own planet and godhead (Mormonism), and virgin pussy is in abundance—or whatever rewards await one in a religion’s conception of afterlife.

In reality, being Earth’s good stewards is a human effort, not a function of theism or atheism. It should be the one area where we all agree. The real impediment to progress on this front is modern civilization’s largely mindless obsession with mass consumption (a function of capitalism) and flippant attitudes toward procreation, which plagues the faithful and unfaithful alike.

ReadPopulation Approaches 7 Billion in a World of Finite Resources: An Existential and Economic Question?for another angle on this issue.

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