Parents, I think it is fair to say, are among the great unsung heroes of our world.
Becoming a parent is one of the most rewarding things a person can do in this life, but it’s also certainly one of the most difficult. I am constantly amazed at the mothers and fathers I encounter in my travels, many of whom have welcomed large, rambunctious families despite the comparative poverty (at least according to our standards!) in which they live. These parents have taken a leap of faith, courageously bringing new life into the world, and giving themselves body and soul to protecting and rearing those children.
The fleeting achievements for which the rich and the famous ostentatiously shower one another with awards in most cases pale in comparison to the daily achievements of the mother of the humblest family, who spends her days quietly loving her children with a love that produces and protects so much of what is truly good and valuable in this world.
There is something marvelous in my mind about the parents who, fully knowing the potential heartache and struggles involved in bringing another child into the world, nevertheless express their boundless faith in the goodness of existence itself and choose to take that risk. This is a true act of courage; an act that expresses implicit agreement with God’s declaration in the book of Genesis that the world and everything in it, including the human race, is “good.”
Truly, every time a mother and father welcome a child into the world, they are imitators of Mary’s great “fiat”, saying “let it be done,” submitting themselves to the greater designs of Divine Providence.
In his homily at the Mass of beatification for Gianna Beretta Molla, who sacrificed her life for that of her unborn child, Pope St. John Paul II gave voice to this attitude when he sang the praises of those “brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of themselves.”
“We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love!” he said. “We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love.”
An Award…For Not Having Children?
With all that said, you can imagine how jarring it felt to me to read the news of the award recently given to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle – an award given to them by a pro-population control organization…for choosing not to have any more children!
Prince Harry and Markle recently gave birth to a second child, a daughter, but have publicized the fact that they do not intend to have any more, for the sake of the planet. “I’ve always thought: This place is borrowed,” Prince Harry said in a 2019 interview with British Vogue. “And, surely, being as intelligent as we all are, or as evolved as we all are supposed to be, we should be able to leave something better behind for the next generation.”
Of course, I see nothing wrong with that sentiment. But I cannot grasp why Prince Harry should think that it is somehow impossible both to leave something better behind for the next generation, as well as to welcome the children who will be the next generation!
In a statement on its website announcing the award, Population Matters commended the couple’s “enlightened” choice, writing, “In choosing and publicly declaring their intention to limit their family to two, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are helping to ensure a better future for their children, and providing a role model for other families.”
Again, there is that assumption that there is somehow a dichotomy between having children and leaving the world a better place. But, is it not possible that the children we leave behind after us, are precisely the better thing we leave to the future? Why must children and the good of the world be viewed as being somehow incompatible?
Of course, it is not so much the couple’s decision to only have two children that I am questioning. The Church acknowledges that there can be valid reasons for postponing having more children. These are private and sometimes painful decisions best left to couples to work out between themselves and God (albeit guided by good principles and hopefully with an attitude of trust in Providence).
But Prince Harry and Markle have publicized their reasons to the world, and have presented themselves as “role models” for others. This brings to mind some other words from that same homily by Pope St. John Paul II quoted above.
In living out their mission, he continued, “these heroic women [i.e., mothers] do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented as obsolete.”
Contrary to Prince Harry and Markle, the Church has always promoted another model, praising those parents who have stretched themselves, and chosen to have large families for the good of their children and the good of the world. “Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare,” noted the fathers of the Second Vatican Council in Humanae Vitae (no. 9).
Population Control in India
Hence the Church’s consistent opposition to the kinds of coercive population control measures that have been used to crush the freedom of couples in places like China and India, and even here in the United States, where forced sterilizations for eugenic reasons were perpetrated on tens of thousands of people in the early-to-mid twentieth century.
How distressing, then, to see the news that India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, has introduced a bill that would institute an official two-child policy. If passed, the law would introduce a coercive regime that would see parents barred from accessing certain social programs, and from participating in elections, should they have more than two children. Meanwhile, the law would offer cash payments and other incentives for parents who choose to be sterilized after only having one child.
Critics of the scheme are noting that Uttar Pradesh’s birth rate is already in rapid freefall, even without the coercive system in place. According to FairPlanet, Uttar Pradesh’s “fertility rate fell by close to half from 4.82 in 1993 to 2.7 in 2016, and is projected to reach 2.1 by 2025.” That is, should fertility trends continue, the state will barely be maintaining its population within the space of less than five years.
At which point Uttar Pradesh would be facing the same situation as other jurisdictions in the world where the population controllers have been so successful, and where the reality of rapidly aging populations is raising serious social and economic concerns. It is with these concerns in mind that China first loosened their one-child policy to a two-child policy several years ago, and then recently further loosened it to a three-child policy.
Prince Harry and Markle may represent the smiling outer-façade of affluent, Western-driven population control, but the logical extension of the mentality they are promoting manifests itself in far less cheerful guise in developing nations targeted by the population controllers. As FairPlanet notes in their article, population control measures in India have tended to target certain “unwanted” subpopulations, thus taking a eugenic turn.
“The Pharaoh of old,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae,
“haunted by the presence and increase of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression and ordered that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed (cf. Ex 1:7-22). Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same way. They too are haunted by the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries. Consequently, rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity of individuals and families and for every person’s inviolable right to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth policy.” (no. 16)
This, ultimately, is a foreboding worldview that casts children as interlopers, parents as irresponsible, and sterility as commendable. While it is unquestionably true that in some cases rapid population growth poses practical challenges for impoverished developing nations, the solution to these challenges is to develop programs of assistance that promote the integral well-being of the people, and that respect their freedom and dignity.
The message sent by Prince Harry and Markle’s award is one that contributes to a reductionist model of problem-solving that views people as problems, rather than potential solutions, and as burdens, rather than gifts. I hope that some day they may instead use their influence to defend human dignity and to call out the injustice of the coercive population control measures that are being justified by the same anti-natal rationale that they are promoting. There is a better way of addressing population issues, and we find it expressed in the constant and wise teachings of the Church. Let us study those, rather than being led by the celebrities of the day.