Are Large Families Irresponsible?
My wife shared an article with me the other day that made some astonishing claims:
[Sir David Attenborough, a] beloved 87-year-old British TV naturalist has tackled the issue of overpopulation head-on this week, saying it “is irresponsible to have large families in this day and age,” and even throwing tepid support behind China’s one-child policy.
I wasn’t aware it was a legal play in football for a player to run up and down the field at will, scoring points without any opposing team. That the world is overpopulated is a pretty popular idea. Comparatively few people oppose it. Tackled is a little strong a term for what should really be called retweeting an outdated yet popular sentiment from the lips of Ebenezer Scrooge.
I suppose it can feel a bit like you’re really playing the game when you have a huge crowd of supporters cheering you on.
So here I am, the opponent.
I’m going to come right out and say it: I have absolutely every intention of being “irresponsible.” Heck, I’ve already been “irresponsible” a few times. We theology majors had a joke at Franciscan. We took God’s first command to mankind, noticed that Steubie alumni tend to breed like rabbits, and chose a rallying cry for family life: Procreate and Dominate. Frankly, it’s replaced my family motto. (The old one is Vincere vel Mori – Conquer or Die. I think the new one is a bit more exciting, don’t you?) Frankly, my wife and I choose to be “irresponsible” just to annoy aging liberals and their vapid overpopulation arguments. 3 kids in 5 years. “Irresponsible,” baby! How do you like that, Attenborough?
Realize, of course, that I don’t mean actually being irresponsible. Humanae Vitae lists several reasons – with a criterion of justice – that a couple might responsibly postpone children, even indefinitely. No, I mean being “irresponsible.” You know, bringing kids into the world under reasonably safe, stable circumstances in such a way that it compels the contracepting, comfortable folks of the world to stare at your brood in the supermarket with marked disapproval.
Ah, the comfortable. Large families are a reminder to them, perhaps, of the Parable of Lazarus. The folks always squawking about overpopulation are just the type who don’t want to share what they have. Like the rich man, they horde whatever they possess, and if they do give of it, they do so reluctantly and with great pomp. Like the rich man, they have only their siblings to warn, and no children, because their greed keeps them from sharing even life, the freest of all gifts. Like the rich man, their names will be unknown to history, without progeny to pass it on. Like the rich man, they will be judged. Ah, the comfortable. How little they enjoy being reminded of the discomfort that awaits them. How little they enjoy seeing the face of a child, each one to them not a person, but a cost.
My wife has high-risk pregnancies, and there will come a point when, after so many medically-necessary c-sections, her uterus just can’t take any more without rupture. Then we’ll probably start adopting kids from Haiti. Because that’s how Catholics handle “overpopulation.” I’d like to ask Sir David Attenborough what he thinks of that irresponsibility.
If you look closely at it, overpopulation isn’t really a global pandemic. It’s a regional thing. It also has less to with population than it does with the distribution of resources. Because most of the developed world is characterized by the rich man in the parable, we take the wrong approach. Rather than fixing the underlying problems by sharing our resources justly – by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and building up a reliable, local economy for the poor – we’ve decided to eliminate the “excessive” people. Curiously, though, when it comes to such means, we westerners always end up finding that it’s that guy across the sea who’s the real problem. Let’s take Haiti as an example: the citizens of Haiti are poor and ravaged by a horrible natural disaster that most of the world has now long forgotten. I see two responsible things to do:
- Donate resources, volunteer, help build up Haitian society to increase Haitian resources.
- Adopt Haitians and reduce the load on the resources they already have.
Like I said, that’s what Catholics call responsible. It makes good sense. Trouble is, it’s hard. It requires a real effort and a real commitment. The last time I checked, the responsible things usually did. A group of my students and some others went on a mission trip to Haiti over the summer. Responsible.
Sir David Attenborough wants people to contracept and abort, to reduce the population by means of violence against nature and against life. It’s the easy way, and all the easier in a might-makes-right world, allowing us strong folks to make sure we’re not a part of that undesirable excess. Last time I checked, that was bullying, and laziness and bullying don’t seem to have a lot of overlap with responsibility.
Raising kids in a safe, stable environment and possibly adopting more from countries short on resources or contracepting and aborting the future to avoid the discomfort of having to take care of others. Which seems more irresponsible to you?