Children are a Gift and Sign of Hope – Not a Burden

A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature-length article with the headline, “Suddenly There Aren’t Enough Babies. The Whole World Is Alarmed.”

The article is just one more piece of evidence of the massive shift in public discourse that I have noted in several recent columns, i.e. that after decades of overpopulation alarmism, many experts are suddenly waking up to the reality that the most pressing population problem facing the world is not overpopulation, but a catastrophically low birth rate.

This was also the theme of a widely-reported-on address given by Pope Francis a week and a half ago. The Holy Father was addressing the fourth gathering of the “General States on Natality.”

 

Human Life is a Gift, Not a Problem

In his speech, Pope Francis lamented the dramatic drop in birth rates across the developed world and urged his listeners to take concrete steps to create policies and a culture in which human life is welcomed and valued.

He opened his remarks by noting that in recent history, many theorists have argued that there are too many humans, and that overpopulation would cause “economic imbalances, a lack of resources, and pollution.”

pope francis

The Holy Father dismissed these theories as not only “outdated” but also as fundamentally wrong-headed, particularly in how they treat human beings as “problems.” “Human life is not a problem, it is a gift,” he stated emphatically.

Ultimately, he added, problems such as economic imbalances and pollution are not a problem of too many people, but rather “the choices of those who think only of themselves, the delirium of an unbridled, blind and rampant materialism, of a consumerism that, like an evil virus, undermines the existence of people and society at the root.”

 

The Overpopulation Error

Although there was a time when many experts would have strenuously disagreed with this statement by the pope, the history of the past two centuries has shown him to be correct.

One of the most influential overpopulation alarmists was Thomas Malthus, an English clergyman. In the late part of the 18th century, Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population, in which he argued that whereas population tends to increase exponentially, physical resources increase arithmetically. If true, this leads to a terrifying conclusion – i.e. population growth will rapidly outstrip a society’s capacity to support the population, producing widespread starvation, disease, and social chaos.

Despite the fact that Malthus’ dire predictions did not come to pass during the rapid population increase of the 19th century, his argument was reincarnated by numerous thinkers over the ensuing centuries. Overpopulation hysteria reached its pinnacle in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s, following the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which predicted massive global starvation before the year 2000.

Unfortunately, there was one glaring flaw in Malthus’ and Ehrlich’s thinking. They forgot to take into consideration the fact that human beings are rational beings that are capable of devising new solutions to problems. As population exploded throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, not only did this not produce the predicted catastrophes, but the exact opposite of what was predicted occurred. The late 20th century saw the greatest and most rapid reductions in rates of poverty and starvation that the world has ever seen.

HLI's missionaries are helping parents in poverty care for their children with all the essentials!

HLI’s missionaries are helping parents in poverty care for their children with all the essentials!

Many economists have argued that the global increase in population is one of the main reasons for the enormous advances made by the human race during this time. Humans, it turns out, aren’t simply consumers. They are also producers. Every human being added to the global population is one more human mind, capable of contributing to the good of society through work and creativity.

 

Cats, Dogs, and Misplaced Priorities

As Pope Francis rightly noted, to the extent that there have been instances of famine, abject poverty, and warfare, the cause has not been overpopulation. Instead, they have been a consequence of moral evil or incompetence.

“Selfishness makes us deaf to the voice of God,” Pope Francis told his audience, “Who loves first and teaches how to love, and to the voice of our brothers and sisters beside us; it anaesthetizes the heart, it makes us live through objects, no longer understanding why; it induces us to have many goods, while no longer knowing how to do good.”

As the Holy Father noted, even as we have turned our backs on the gift of children, many couples seem to have no problem adding pets to their lives. “Houses fill up with objects and are emptied of children, becoming very sad places,” he said. Meanwhile, “there is no shortage of dogs and cats… These are not lacking. There is a shortage of children.”

“The problem of our world is not the children who are born: it is selfishness, consumerism and individualism, which make people satiated, lonely and unhappy.”

In illustrating the perverse priorities of our society, the Holy Father noted that he had recently had a conversation with somebody who pointed out that two of the most profitable investments are in weapons and in contraceptives. “One destroys life; the other prevents life,” he noted.

 

Demography and Hope

The Holy Father rightly draws a connection between the birth rate, and the level of “hope” that a people have.

“Without children and young people, a country loses its desire for the future,” he told his audience, pointing to Italy’s catastrophically low birth rate. “Unfortunately, if we were to take these data as a base, we would be forced to say that Italy is progressively losing its hope in tomorrow, like the rest of Europe.”

Developing nations are targets for population control agendas, which include encouraging contraceptives and abortion. HLI conducts trainings in these nations to counteract the population propaganda. Natural Family Planning training in Kitwe, South Africa, 2019. HLI trains all year round in NFP.

Developing nations are targets for population control agendas, which include encouraging contraceptives and abortion. HLI conducts trainings in these nations to counteract the population propaganda. Natural Family Planning training in Kitwe, South Africa, 2019. HLI trains all year round in NFP.

Speaking to young people, he urged them to avoid being overwhelmed by hopelessness amidst such things as “declining birth rate, wars, pandemics and climate change,” which many young people cite as reasons not to have children.

Speaking of Europe, he lamented that, “The Old Continent is increasingly turning into the continent of the old, a tired and resigned continent, so caught up in exorcising loneliness and anguish that it no longer knows how to savour, in the civilization of giving, the true beauty of life.”

With these words, Pope Francis summed up the reality in many developed nations, not just in Europe. Many Asian nations with long and venerable histories and rich cultures have embraced a level of childlessness that is so extreme that it poses a threat to their continued existence.

Such childless nations have indeed lost the sense of the “true beauty of life.” Their schools are empty. Their elderly are lonely. Their economies are stagnating. And despite the efforts of many governments to boost birth rates through tax incentives and grants, they have remained “tired and resigned” to their fate.

 

Policies are Not Enough

The Pope suggested various practical ways to increase the birth rate. This includes policies that make it more possible for young people to achieve their dreams, by ensuring that young couples don’t have to choose between childcare and work, or that they can afford to buy a home.

There is, however, one part of the Holy Father’s remarks I would like to expand upon. He is quite right that governments must commit themselves to child-friendly policies. He is quite right to exhort the young to be generous and courageous, and not to allow their fears to overwhelm their willingness to embrace the life-giving risk of having children.

However, in the end, my fear is that any such plans and exhortations to courage will accomplish nothing, without a profound conversion of heart.

The Holy Father hinted at the importance of this in his remarks. He noted that the future is not something that is set in stone, but rather is something that is built in community with others. And above all, with Christ.

“Very often the Lord says, ‘But I say to you’,” Pope Francis told his audience, “which changes things.” This “but,” continued the pope, “has the perfume of salvation, that prepares something ‘out of the blue’, that prepares a rupture.”

In other words, when we plan for the future in cooperation with God, we open our hearts to receive and cooperate with the unexpected incursions of the Divine. As Isaiah writes: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways'” (Is 55:8-9).

To submit to God’s plan for our lives requires opening our hearts to accept possibilities that we cannot foresee and that we may not immediately understand. However, despite our natural fear in the face of the unknown, we are empowered to do so by a deep faith in God’s loving Providence.

Those who possess a deep faith know that God’s love for us outstrips even our love for ourselves. Such an awareness of God’s abiding love opens our hearts to cooperate with God’s grace. This in turn empowers us with a level of trust and courage that is fundamentally supernatural.

While I would not wish to discount the importance of strong pro-family, pro-child policies, it seems obvious that such policies will do little to move the needle on the demographic winter we are facing. The reason is that they do little to assist young people in overcoming the widespread anxiety, fear, and nihilism that comes from living in a society that sees human life as fundamentally absurd.

Such atheistic young people fundamentally stand in need of the Gospel, i.e. the Good News! They need to know that they are not a cosmic accident produced by blind biological processes, but rather are loved by God from all eternity and are destined to spend eternity with Him. Far from absurd, life is a gift. It is a great adventure.

And furthermore, life is best lived not by closing in on oneself, but by sharing the gift of life with others. This is done through love, which is fundamentally self-diffusive. That is to say, love inherently looks outwards. It is not a thing that a person can keep within him- or herself. Love demands to spread outwards.

HLI's donors are uniting pro-lifers in Latin America! Because of their love for human life, missionaries are protecting families from pro-abortion attacks.

HLI’s donors are uniting pro-lifers in Latin America! Because of their love for human life, missionaries are protecting families from pro-abortion attacks.

For men and women who are married, love necessarily drives them to create new life, so that they may share their love with children, who are the fruit of their love. However, the secular understanding of romantic love as inward looking, with the primary aim being the pursuit of happiness and satisfaction, lacks this transcendent outlook. Only through a widespread spiritual awakening will our young people find the outlook and the courage to begin having children at a rate that will be enough to change the direction of our society.

Thus, while governments have a role to play, the Church has an even greater role to play, by renewing its commitment to spreading the Gospel to all corners of the globe.

As president of Human Life International, Fr. Boquet is a leading expert on the international pro-life and family movement, having journeyed to nearly 90 countries on pro-life missions over the last decade. Father Boquet works with pro-life and family leaders in 116 counties that partner with HLI to proclaim and advance the Gospel of Life. Read his full bio here.

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1 Comments

  1. Vivian Charles Harry Mauya on May 20, 2024 at 4:41 PM

    Thank you so much for indepth, educative and enriching article especially now when my country Malawi is today (20/5/2024) hosting a 9 African Population Control Programme meeting graced by high-powered minister of Iceland. In any case I will use contents of this article to show them how contradictory these delegates are to the realities of the 21st century world population demographics status quo.

    Thank you so much Father and stay blessed please.

    Best regards

    Vivian
    Executive Director
    Right to Life Friends (RILIF)

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