Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Birth Patrol” first appeared in the May 2006 issue of Touchstone.
Paul J. Cella III on the Fears of Those Who Worship the Means but Hate the Ends
On the way home from work some time ago, I found myself idling behind a car featuring a bumper sticker pithy and imperious, but mostly revealing, that instantly aroused my contempt. It read: “Stop breeding.” Now such a directive is simply dishonest, for the only way to really accomplish it is by something undreamed of by its promoter. We are unlikely to see a bumper sticker declaring, with subversive relish, “Stop having sex,” or be implored by some lurid billboard, “Celibacy now!” Even “Chastity now” would be a thing to be remarked.
In all likelihood the opponent of breeding has probably not even contemplated issuing such demands. If someone told him to stop having sex, he would most likely find the idea either laughable or bizarre and odious. Yet to accomplish his goal in any meaningful way would require adherence to these demands.
It is possible, through the impressive technology of modern medicine, to significantly diminish birthrates; it is not yet possible to eliminate birth. Many Western countries have gone a long way toward the proffered objective of a cessation of breeding; none have yet achieved it. Even the most sophisticated communities of sterile Europe have birthrates higher than zero.
The Stop Breeding movement was given a bit more fleshing out, though certainly no greater wisdom, in a recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle by one Mark Morford. “Who are you to judge?” the columnist begins ironically.
How a statistical rate can be vicious, or an economic condition unrepentant, is a question left unanswered; nor are we to stop and consider the moral stature of a man who openly refers to a class of human beings as a “viral outbreak.”
The diatribe is too rapid for such reflection, and now it becomes more ugly and graphic: “[It’s] actually painful to imagine . . . the ravages [the mother’s body] has endured to give birth to roughly one child per year for nearly two decades,” and “[It] is not for this space to visualize frighteningly capacious vaginal dimensions. It is not for this space to imagine this couple’s soggy sexual mutations. We do not have enough wine on hand for that.”
The writer does manage to stumble upon an insight of sorts: namely, that by failing to breed, the Left (his word) makes manifest its death wish. “Where,” he asks plaintively,
No it isn’t. But it is striking that the writer sets up a hypothetical “liberal, spiritualized, pro-sex” side over against the Christians. Are we to believe that a couple who produces sixteen children is “anti-sex”? The absurdity of the notion is self-evident. In truth—and this is a truth not so hard to discern as people make out—the only coherent position that is genuinely “pro-sex” is one that is also “pro-children,” in the sense of recognizing the natural end of sex.
To eliminate the possibility of procreation from human sexuality requires a settled violence against things as they are: against, in short, the nature of man. To hate the ends and worship the means is a very special sort of madness and fraud.
A similar specimen of this thinking, less vituperative than flippant, appeared some months ago in the English newspaper The Guardian, in an article written by a prize-winning novelist named Lionel Shriver. To the question of why she chose to remain childless, the author replied with inspiring stuff like this: “I could have afforded children, financially. I just didn’t want them. They are untidy; they would have messed up my flat. In the main, they are ungrateful. They would have siphoned too much time away from the writing of my precious books.”
In all this broken world, there are few mountebanks as detestable as the Apostle of Barrenness. Or as ghastly. To imagine that there is something intrinsically wrong with a fertile love, and that, conversely, there is intrinsic merit in thwarting fertility, even destroying it, is to commit a blunder that issues, strictly speaking, in death.
How shall we answer those who, not content to embrace sterility for themselves, must also curse fruitfulness in others? What shall we say of those who look upon the mystery of procreation, the greatest of all merely mortal creativity, with fear and scorn? What shall we say to him who prefers, as Chesterton put it, “the very dregs of life to the first fountains of life” and “the last, crooked, indirect, borrowed, repeated and exhausted things” to “the reality which is the only rejuvenation of all civilization”?
We shall say as Chesterton did: You are enslaved. “It is they who are hugging the chains of their old slavery; it is the child who is ready for the new world.”
And once again the absurd backwardness of our progressives is startling. They accuse us of reaction, yet they are still living, with passions undimmed, in yesterday’s world. They are still bedazzled by the incantations of the doomsayers of the 1970s, who wrote books with weighty titles like The Population Bomb, and soon found their dark prognostications shattered utterly. Even the pompous mandarins of Europe have succeeded in discovering that the very opposite of what these sham prophets feared now threatens: not an exploding population but an imploding one.
Men will say what they will about what conservatism really means, but for my part I will insist that it means at least this: It is that response, often almost instinctual, which a society still possessed of any vitality shows when some group of energumens proffers a fraudulent scheme of progress. It is that mind which, to some decay or regression advertised as sweet progress, answers: “I may not know what progress really is, but I do know it is not that.”
In the realm of human sexuality, I confess I do not know what “progress,” in the sense that the progressives mean it, really is, but I do most certainly know it is not sterility. On the one hand, we have the picture of human sexuality given to us by a family blessed with sixteen children; on the other, we have “Stop breeding.” What distinguishes them: faith, hope, and love. •
Morford’s column can be found at www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/10/19/notes101905.DTL. Shriver’s appeared at http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/politicsphilosophyandsociety/story/0,%206000,1571998,00.html
“Birth Patrol” first appeared in the May 2006 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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