Stop bearing children.”
So says one of a cadre of new environmental voices decrying the dangers of overpopulation. Actually, he writes it in all-caps so the article shouts his phrase with a manic verve, an imperative of nigh-biblical proportions. The author advocates a (hyperbolic) “Five Year Plan” in which the whole world ceases its baby-making activities for half a decade in order to counteract the carbon footprint of those would-be carbon-producing feet. “Be fruitful and multiply,” he says, must be “the worst advice in the history of the world.”
Yet, young and environmentally progressive as I am, I have a son. My wife, Hannah, and I love our son so much that we are planning on having another baby soon. It’d be nice to have a third child, or even some twins, or even more children beyond them, before we begin to adopt (which is another desire of ours). We aren’t a particularly wealthy family (we have a single income, and that is in pastoral ministry), nor are we particularly exceptional parents, nor are we particularly well-positioned to have as many children as possible. At the very least, we will run out of room in this parsonage before we run out of space in our hearts for babies. Still, we are interested in taking advantage of our fertility and filling this world with more and more of our offspring.
This, according to our baby-limiting interlocutor (and his echo chamber of like-minded individuals), constitutes an ethical error, a moral dysfunction, and a social irresponsibility. Every child, says our author, will add to our environmental crisis; why add more? For this reason, and others, many of my millennial peers are refusing to have children altogether, or waiting until much later in life to have kids (resulting in far smaller families), or limiting themselves to just two. Given such immense social pressure, and such emphatic calls-to-action, what right do my wife and I have to ignore this claim?
Eschatology and politics in the Christian faith both begin with the Incarnation of Christ. There was born, in Bethlehem, a baby who is the light of the world and the ruler of kings. In opposition to him stand the high priests of post-reproductive politics—exemplified in the savage nihilism of King Herod, whose jealous rage drove him to murder the innocent children of Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to prevent Christ’s coming. Just as King Herod’s slaughter of the innocent is unsurprising (though lamentable), so too is the language of post-reproductive humanity, such as that hinted at by the author of the “Five Year Plan” or, in more sophisticated fashion, by Lauren Berlant and Michel Foucault. Herod and our author share the same anti-eschatological politics and both attempt to execute an apocalyptic Freudian death-drive; these values communicate the antithesis of the Incarnation of Christ.
Christ, both the hope of salvation and the end of politics, arrived in the form of a little baby. We could re-phrase the creeds and say, instead of “fully man and fully God,” “fully baby and fully God.” In fact, in our day of re-naming human beings to fit our agendas, in our day of “embryos” instead of “babies,” such re-articulation is quite necessary. Christ does not come “fully man” as Adam did, shaped and formed from clay; he comes “fully man” the way you or I did, shaped and formed in our mothers’ wombs. To say that Christ is “fully baby” is to assert a truth that we do not often recognize: that there is a mystery and a promise hidden in the creation of new life.
To bear a baby is to participate in the mysteries of God. It isn’t an unbearable burden or unfathomable command for us to take God’s “be fruitful and multiply” seriously. Bearing children is not something accidental to our human existence. Christ comes as “fully baby,” and His doing so affirms our embodied humanity, born of a mother, emergent from a womb.
The Christian faith asserts that Jesus is “fully baby,” and that Jesus as “fully baby” requires us to take seriously the beauty and mystery that is sex, conception, pregnancy, and child-bearing. I have always enjoyed the idea of having a large family, of filling the world with little “images of Ian” or “images of Hannah,” and, contrary to the naysayers, this is not a selfish desire. It is actually quite the opposite! This desire is tied up with our humanity, with our embodied existences as sexual beings, with our being made in the Image of God: It is creational, evangelistic, and self-giving.
To bear children is also to bear witness. Christ is “fully baby,” and we bear babies who will be “fully baby” with eschatological hope. Though our author, and other proponents of “Five Year Plans,” may wax apocalyptic about the dangers of overpopulation, it is impossible for us to imperil the environment by testifying to the Incarnation that undergirds creation. Christian people will not tamp down our faithful hope: We will, instead, declare it with our lives. In a society growing more and more reticent to bear babies, it will be the Christians who will bear babies and, in so doing, bear witness.
Ian Edward Caveny is pastor at First Baptist Church of Hillsboro in south-central Illinois.