The US population is set to cross the 300 million mark next week, a sign that our population is prosperous not only in dollars but also in people. But instead of celebrating, many Americans will look at their kids, nervously wondering whether they are contributing to the inevitable downfall of civilization that we’ve been told will follow as our population grows.
You see, we have been indoctrinated to think that more babies are a bad thing, especially if those babies may not have pre-paid college tuition accounts while in utero. Because of our anti-baby bias, Americans in general need a good primer both on population issues and on generosity, so here it goes.
First, why is it that “growth” is only a problem when it concerns humans? When a new calf is born to a farmer he knows he's a richer man; but when a new baby is born to him we call him irresponsible. We crave growth not only in our flocks but also in our stocks, our opportunities, our freedoms and our reputations, but when it comes to the growth of our families, our attitudes are strangely determined by a careful cost-benefit analysis of how much another kid is worth. A US News and World Report cover some years ago showed a baby with a bar code stamped on her forehead and an alarmist headline that the little creature will eat up nearly $1.5 million before age eighteen. That icon of the prevailing attitudes is not only wrong, but it betrays a fundamental selfishness of our culture. Children are not commodities; they are gifts that make us richer in every way. But that message is hard to convey to a materialistic society.
Second, there is a deep-seated hypocrisy in the attitudes of westerners toward world population growth: that is, we only become alarmed at the growth of the populations of poor people, not rich ones. Ask the average American what areas of the world are overpopulated and she will inevitably tell you Africa and Asia. She may add Latin America due to the number of people who are undoubtedly so populous that they have to sneak across our borders to feed themselves. She will be wrong on all counts, but facts are not relevant to overpopulation propaganda. Ask her what country has the third largest population in the world and she will likely not know that it is her own. We've been programmed intuitively to connect population growth with people of color and then to think that the best way to eliminate their poverty is to eliminate them. My favorite icon of this hypocrisy is Ted Turner who has given $1 billion to the UN to reduce the birthrates in the Third World but has five kids himself. I guess it's OK when those five are spread out over several wives.
Third, there is a profound ignorance about the nature of modern population growth. Since the end of the Second World War the world's population more than doubled, sending shock waves of panic throughout the well-developed countries, blaming the growth exclusively on the number of babies that all those poor people were having. The over-population histrionics ignored the reality that advances in health care and modern technology have contributed the lion's share of that growth by simply keeping people alive longer and providing them with a better standard of living. That seems like a good thing to me because the result is more life and prosperity for all. Yet billions of dollars have been spent in the past forty years to fanatically lower the birth rates of the Third World so that all those unwashed masses don't take away the material gains that we earned for ourselves and we deserve them, right?
We can't be blind to the fact that this anti-baby bias has greased the skids to abortion all around the world, too. The abortion industry knows that there is a paper-thin line between not wanting a baby now and not wanting a baby period. When they have sold a society on the idea that babies are the source of all their problems, it is not too hard to sell them on abortion.
Ultimately the question of population is not so much about numbers as it is about generosity with life and fertility. “To those who have, more will be given,” said the Lord in His infinite wisdom, and that is especially true with childbearing. When my parents decided to have seven children in the late fifties and sixties they did so when many of their peers were calling it quits at three. If they had only had three I wouldn't be here because I'm their fourth; and I know I speak for my brothers and sisters in saying that we would all gladly undergo any measure of sacrifice for our parents as they get older because, as they say, what goes around still comes around.
Fr. Tom Euteneuer is president of Human Life International.