This is in response to a post and comment on the Junior Ganymede blog, regarding the way to “right” the world, which, according to the post, is for good people to raise families and teach their children to do the same. Along the way, the post makes the point that any religion that isn’t having kids is a failure, and “Any institution that isn’t reproducing itself with children is sick.”
Bruce Charlton, in a comment, states that this is a good litmus test for a healthy institution. Basically, if it’s reproducing it passes the litmus test, and if it’s not it doesn’t. Passing the litmus test doesn’t mean that the institution is healthy, since it may be unhealthy in other ways. But failing that litmus test means it is definitely unhealthy.
I don’t disagree that an institution that is not reproducing itself is unhealthy, in the sense that it’s less likely to survive and grow than one which is constantly replenishing itself; though on the other hand, the Christian Church started out very tiny, and look at it today. It may shrink for a generation or two but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will die. Still, for a living thing to shrink rather than grow, even if only temporarily, may fairly be called an illness.
However I’m not so sure that procreation per se is the issue. I think the issue is rather moral laxity in general. And moral laxity in the Christian Church ultimately means the loss of the sense of sin and the fear of God, the failure to realize that sin displeases God, and that sin, and God’s displeasure with sin, is that from which Jesus came to save us.
We have instead adopted the idea that God is never displeased with us, for any reason, and although he would like it if we would be good, he likes us regardless, so no biggie.
Procreation is not a thing that needs to be encouraged by religion or otherwise. People will engage in the procreative act, and the procreative act will result in children. The reason people are having no kids is due to thwarting the natural results of that act. This is what is new in our age which bears directly on reproduction; this is the elephant in the room: We’re procreating less because we have invented new ways of thwarting the natural results of sex, and legitimized others, allowing us to experience its pleasure without its main consequence.
Catholic morality is set up in such a way that if it’s followed seriously and faithfully, procreation will happen virtually automatically.
Catholics at one time (pre-1960s) were known for having large families. The reason for this, mainly, was the prohibition against birth control — which at one time was common to all Christian religions, but after about 1930 became a peculiarly Catholic thing. The prohibition against extra-marital sex was still common to all faiths, so the main thing distinguishing Catholics from most other Christians was their refusal to limit family size through the use of birth control within marriage.
What is the difference between Catholics of that time, and those of our own? Not the Church’s teaching. The moral strictures which resulted in Catholics having unusually large families in the past, are still on the books. The main difference is the moral laxity which has infected the Church’s hierarchy and priesthood. No longer is sexual morality preached from the pulpit (or in religious ed. classes), nor the need to abstain from Communion while in the state of mortal sin. As many have noted, since Vatican II the Communion lines are long, while the Confession lines are short. The focus is on mercy to the exclusion of justice.
If the Church recovered its seriousness in this regard, would large families again be the result? Certainly. Granted, the Church might suddenly lose half its membership. But those who remained would be those who took their faith seriously, and these would either procreate or remain celibate — and most people don’t feel called to celibacy. If you forbid the thwarting of the natural results of sexual intercourse, you will have procreation aplenty, because there is always sexual intercourse aplenty. If the only morally licit way of indulging your sexual appetites is within marriage and in a manner which presents no barrier to procreation, then people who care about morality but don’t want to live celibately, will most certainly procreate.
For the Protestant churches, the answer isn’t so cut-and-dried. For Protestant churches to get serious about their own morality would not necessarily result in more procreation, since for them sex and procreation are morally divisible: It’s perfectly allowable to have sex while thwarting its natural result. So while they will continue having plenty of sexual intercourse, this won’t result in plenty of children.
Some Mormons argue that their religion is uniquely positioned to survive and thrive in our age, because of their emphasis on eternal marriage and family. But they too have no moral objection to thwarting the natural results of sexual intercourse; at least, it’s not categorically forbidden, and is left to the discretion of individuals. Overagainst this obstacle to procreation they place their emphasis on eternal marriage and the family, and other doctrines which provide positive encouragement to procreate. It’s for these reasons, they believe, that they manage to procreate at a higher rate than other Christians generally. Still, their rates of reproduction are lower today than they used to be, just like everyone else’s, and by the same cause.
I submit that it’s the Catholic Church’s moral teachings that would result in the largest increases in procreation, if only they were again seriously and earnestly preached, since they rely not on encouragement or the hope of future blessing as incentives to procreate, but simply on human nature as God made it.