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God vs Overpopulation

“And God blessed them, saying : increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and rule over the fishes of the sea and the fowls of the air and all living creatures that move upon the earth.”

Genesis 1:28

I recently travelled to Mississippi (for the first time) to visit my husband who is temporarily stationed there. On the second stretch of my journey, a flight out of Charlotte, my seatmate was looking for conversation.

He started with the usual litany: Are you coming or going? Have you been here before? What brings you down south? Are you married? Any kids?

My husband and I recently decided that when asked if we had any children we would answer honestly “We had a daughter but she died.

We did not make this decision lightly as the answer is unavoidably personal and makes many people uncomfortable, however, we felt it was necessary because she did exist and we hope that it will be a positive witness for being open to life. (I’ll do a separate post for this one day soon.)

I answered my seatmate honestly and continued, saying, “We hope she was the first of many and that we’ll have another one soon.” He callously told me that I might change my mind once I got one home.

*Cue the Holy Spirit*

I managed to not punch him in the face and in fact responded –I think – quite gracefully with, “I doubt it as my husband is the eldest of eight and I’ve wanted ten kids since I was little. There is no such thing as too many babies.”

“Except in places like China where they are overpopulated and overcrowded,” was his reply.

“Well,” said I, “My husband has been to China and though the cities are in fact quite populous, there are vast stretches of open countryside. Furthermore, I’m actually Canadian and we have the second largest country in the world with the population of Mexico City.” (around 36 million in case you were wondering)

At this point he changed the subject.

Still the thought of overpopulation danced in the back of my head. Children are not products that can be made and destroyed in response to supply and demand. They are living breathing human beings with eternal souls. Every child that comes into being is a direct act of God. To even entertain the idea that overpopulation is possible would be to say that it is possible for God to err. The problems we face in third world countries are due to poor distribution of resources and the problems looming ahead for the western world are due to a lack, not of resources, but of new people.

In 1797, Thomas Malthus published “An Essay on the Principles of Population” in which he predicted mass starvation – by the year 1890 – as Earth’s population increased exponentially and food production remained the same. Paul Ehrlich forecast a similar fate in his book “The Population Bomb” published in 1968 wherein he claimed that millions if not billions of people would be dying of starvation by 1995. In 1994, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology said that farmers were using less than half of the world’s arable land and land conversions for urban development would use up less than 2%.

Fred Pearce has written books on what he calls the coming population crash you can read a little about his thoughts here.Β (be aware that this is a secular link)

From 1960 to 2009 average world fertility rates plummeted from almost 5 to 2.5. In countries, such as Japan, where the fertility rate is 1.2 in 4 generations they will have only one tenth of the population they have now. That’s 90% shrinkage.

The necessary replacement rate (to maintain a population) is 2.1 and many Western nations have fallen below that benchmark. Once a population’s fertility rates fall below a certain point it has been seen historically that that culture can never recover. Check out www.overpopulationisamyth.com and the Population Research Institute (www.pop.org )

While the world at large seems to have bought into the overpopulation myth, we as Catholics are called to be open to life. Have you ever had to deal with strangers (or family and friends) who feel your fertility rate is a cause for world panic?

“Saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers.” -Mother Theresa

  • Colleen - WOW! Good for you for responding to him in such charitable, yet direct way! You are my hero! I struggle with being put on the spot by strangers, and I think that encounter would have definitely riled me up. You are an inspiration.

    Thank you for the links to statistics – I’ll be bookmarking them all. While I obviously don’t need to justify the overpopulation myth to myself, sometimes when discussing it with others who don’t understand the sanctity of each individual, precious life, it’s helpful to have some statistics to back myself up.September 20, 2011 – 7:42 amReplyCancel

  • Shiela - Thankfully, I have never had anyone challenge me on overpopulation to my face. I get mixed reactions when I arrive anywhere in my clown car/van. Recently, an older couple was waiting to occupy a parking space next to ours, but had to wait until we got out of our van. They started to laugh as three, four, and five children tumbled out of the car. I braced myself for a back handed compliment. But, they smiled and waited patiently and then told us what a beautiful family we had. That was nice! But, I have had many opportunities to discuss the overpopulation myth online. I am so glad you brought up Malthus. He encouraged the development of the modern overcrowded city where disease and poverty and competition for resources could keep population low. People love the idea of living in the modern city, but yet, they are completely out of sync with our human needs.September 20, 2011 – 9:00 amReplyCancel

  • Adrienne - Great topic!! And good for you in the way you handled that conversation.

    As you pointed out there always has been and there always will be over-population theorists, just like there always has been and always will be end of times predictions. Furthermore, Jesus reminded us the poor will always be with us, despite any utopian ideas on resource redistribution (not that it’s futile to help the poor, of course not! But that there will always be people in need).

    I’ve come to believe that a philosophy on life is only as good as it can sustain itself. Those who are pro-abortion and pro-contraception on average are having too few children. Not just in other countries but in North America as well. They aren’t having any or enough children to pass on their beliefs to, which means as their camp gets smaller, those who are open to life will likely continue to have more children to spread their beliefs to, demonstrating their philosophy on life is self sustaining. (Do we see a future for overturning abortion laws by this mechanism alone?)

    Furthermore, I see the Gospel of Life as preserved in the Catholic Church as a test of authenticity to Her Sacred Tradition. The most basic way to ensure that there will always be Christians is to continue to be open to the children God has planned for us. It is perfectly fitting that God would place this most basic mechanism in the Church His Son established as He promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Of course there are other measures by which God has employed to ensure the triumph of His Church, however, despite popular culture’s opinion on today’s family sizes, and despite even the popular opinion of many of today’s Catholics, the Church literally does not have the authority to change Her teachings on the Gospel of Life (anti-abortion and anti-contraception). Other churches may teach these important principles too, but only the Catholic Church literally can not ever change Her position on these subjects. That is a testament of authenticity that no other Christian church has.

    Lastly, God has population control under control. He has His own mechanisms to do this be it calling people to the religious or single life, or limiting family sizes by menopause, primary or secondary infertility, or even directly by sickness and natural disasters. Everyone will be touched by one (or more!) of these measures.

    Hrm… I think that’s enough words for a simple comment as it rivals the length of your post! =D.September 20, 2011 – 9:01 amReplyCancel

  • Emily - Beautiful post… Good for you having the strength to combat conversations like that!September 20, 2011 – 9:50 amReplyCancel

  • Holly - What a great witness you are. I have to say, it really made my heart happy to hear how your and your hubby have decided to answer the children question – and I am sure it is hard for you. We have a baby who went to heaven pre-birth and we have decided to say, “we parent 3 children and have 1 waiting in heaven” It is hard though, because then some people think it is a open door for questions. But, we want to witness that we believe that a pre-born baby is indeed, a baby πŸ™‚

    I never understood this over-population thing. I’m from the country. Haven’t people ever been to the country?! In the USA -people act like NYC and LA are the only places – when there are so many states inbetween (they call us “fly-overs”) that have miles and miles of land that no one lives in.

    Blessings,
    HollySeptember 20, 2011 – 10:56 amReplyCancel

  • Megan - This is a great post and perspective on an issue that I’ve considered myself. Thanks!September 20, 2011 – 5:12 pmReplyCancel

  • Hannah - http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/blogs/There+plenty+room/5427626/story.html

    So I thought it interesting that this op-ed piece ran today in the Ottawa Citizen, one of Canada’s largest newspapers.September 20, 2011 – 7:06 pmReplyCancel

  • Amy Tardif - Wonderful testimony and witness!September 20, 2011 – 8:35 pmReplyCancel

  • robbie - First of all, I cannot believe that the guy heard your words about your little one and then said any of those things. Incredible.

    Secondly, in answer to your question–yes, I’ve had to deal with others who think having children–any number of children–is irresponsible. In my experience, the population thing has been only one portion of their objection to kids, a “screen” of sorts that hides their larger concern, which is mankind in general. Their philosophy runs like this: it’s because of *people* that there are problems on the earth, and with fewer people these problems will be lessened, with the idea that the fewer there are the better, even to the point of the extinction of mankind. The earth would be better off without us polluting, resource-using, carbon creating leeches sucking off her.

    The first time I realized this, that this was the REAL issue behind the issue, I was stunned. Because while I can try to make good arguments to convince others that population isn’t bad, that indeed people are the earth’s greatest resource, if their ultimate paradigm is that MAN is BAD, then I’m at a loss for words. It just makes me want to cry and pray really hard.

    I applaud your whole effort, and thank you for posting this story. Population stuff is an interest of mine, and I love hearing how other people feel about it, and how they handle it in conversation. Thank you!!!

    p.s. Okay, I’m going on too long now but another good factoid to share with people in addition to the fact that Europe is all below replacement rate (which they don’t see as being a bad or scary thing) is that in most of the Muslim world, population is soaring. Yes, folks, the Muslims are reproducing! That thought is a little more unnerving to most. Here’s a link for some fun and fabulous charts you can play with forever, and share with all your friends! http://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&met_y=sp_ado_tfrt&hl=en_US&dl=en_US#ctype=l&strail=false&nselm=h&met_y=sp_ado_tfrt&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&ifdim=country&tdim=true&hl=en&dl=en_USSeptember 20, 2011 – 10:32 pmReplyCancel

  • Hannah - Hi Robbie,

    My husband and I often have debates (well not really since we’re both on the same side…) about overpopulation. There is a video online about when we can expect most European countries to be Muslim AND my mother remembers back in 1966 being told by her teacher (a nun) that by 2050 France would be a Muslim nation! I’ll have to see if I can find the link that that video!September 21, 2011 – 6:16 amReplyCancel

  • Michelle - Hannah, what a wonderful piece you’ve given us! I loved it (well, all except the rude man and his comment after telling him you lost your daughter). Having a very large family we often get these remarks. It’s frustrating to say the least. I love the idea though of asking them if think God could err! I am definitely going to use that one for the next person to bring this up to me. It’s the best response I have ever heard because we know that God would not make a mistake!

    God bless you and I pray that one day you are blessed with your family of at *least* ten children. I can tell you from experience it is wonderful… even after you get them home! πŸ˜‰September 22, 2011 – 10:56 pmReplyCancel

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