Monday, May 4, 2009

Thoughts on Longman's Thesis and the Need for Overturning Much Current Conventional Wisdom

[See previous two posts for the background to this one.]

In the light of the reality of world depopulation and the serious implications it has for the future of the West (the secular liberal ideology of which is largely responsible for exacerbating this crisis) and the entire world, I want to offer a few thoughts here as reflections on Longman's thesis.

His thesis was that falling population rates is now an established certainty, not a mere projection depending on future events, and that it will make the world less populated, poorer, and more religious. I think we need to turn much current conventional wisdom, which is based in an out-dated worldview derived from the 1960's, upside down.

1. Conservative Christians who believe in God's plan for the family and the importance of marriage, children and faith should not be discouraged. Why? Because the culture of death that is all around us is indeed evil, but we must remember that evil destroys itself eventually. Every evil, maruading, oppressive empire in history so far has fallen -from ancient Assyria to the USSR. Christianity has a way of outliving its persecutors. So rather than being tempted to conform to the culture around us, we should regard non-conformity and being persecuted as the best way to survive. After all, it is not called the culture of death for nothing. It is going to die - by suicide.

2. Having more babies is good; childlessness by choice is selfish. We must celebrate the birth of children and give honour to those parents who choose to nurture, raise and educate children for the benefit of society as a whole. This is one reason I love our church; we have the announcement of a new born almost every other week. Our pastor frequently declares "Kids are us" and our children's ministry is characterized (let me say with the disclaimer that I don't work in children's ministry) by excellence and dedication.

The economic truth is that adults who deliberateley choose not to reproduce are parasites on society and depend on those of us who make extensive economic sacrifices to raise children in order to subsidize their lavish lifestyles.

In the name of both economic justice and pragmatism, society should help couples raise children in a number of ways. For one thing, the entry of so many women into the workforce has practically relieved capitalist business enterprises of paying anyone a "family wage." This is wrong. Also, given that every future worker is a tremendous benefit to society, married parents should receive a tax break to help them pay the cost of child-rearing and the significant opportunity cost losses of mothers not working full-time. If we are going to subsidize child-less couples with public services provided by those who are here because parents sacrificed to raise them, then this is only fair.

3. Of course, nothing I have said should be taken in such a way as to blame couples plagued by infertility. Their pain is often great and they deserve sympathy and support. I'm only talking about couples who would rather drive luxury cars and vacation in the south, rather than have children. Our main problem is that we have structured our society in such a way as to discourage procreation and undermine families. If we remove obstacles, most poeple will do what comes naturally and form loving families.

4. Also, nothing I have said implies that we should not be concerned about the pollution of our environment or that we should relax environmental protection laws. My point is simply that we should not make a falling population the solution to the problem of pollution. Population decline, because it will lower standards of living and increase poverty, will likely result in more, not less pollution simply because we will not be able to afford to clean the mess already made and prevent further pollution.

The environmental movement is right to be concerned about the need to care about our world and keep it clean. But it is mis-guided to try to reduce the world population as a means to that goal. Christians need to launch their own environmental movement that is not characterized by an anti-life agenda. Maintaining a stable population and age-distribution in society should be seen as a goal of the environmental movement.

5. Old-style inter-faith dialogue must give way to new forms of inter-faith dialogue, particularly between Christians and Muslims. Since the future belongs to religious, as opposed to secular, people, the urgent priority is for people of various religions, especially today Muslims and Christians, to come together in dialogue. But the nature of inter-faith dialogue must change radically from the model promoted by liberal Christians for the past half-century.

Instead of working from a Western, liberal, secularist model which presupposed that there is a common core of religion that can be distilled from every particular faith and expressed in the language of Western "values language," we must recognize the historical and theological particularity of each faith and expect each faith to remain faithful to its own core convictions. Rather than a search for a common essence of "religion" supposed contained in each faith, (which turns out to look suspiciously like a re-hash of Western, liberal values), we should engage each other on the basis of practical common interests like peace, prosperity and threats to global stability.

In other words, I am advocating a shift from a search for a common religious essence to a search for a common moral framework. When serious believers from the various faiths speak directly to each other, rather than through the mediation of secular liberalism, much common ground should be evident. For example, Islam and Christianity both emphasize strong families. How can we agree on economic policies that will not undermine the family? We also have many moral positions in common such as the rejection of abortion and euthanasia and the sanctity of marriage. Liberals will, of course, find this threatening to their hegemony, but that is no reason to allow them to dictate what kind of dialogue should occur between religions.

The goal of inter-faith dialogue should be to find commonly agreed on solutions to the problems we share in common in an increasingly interdependant global village.

4 comments:

Halden said...

"The economic truth is that adults who deliberateley[sic] choose not to reproduce are parasites on society and depend on those of us who make extensive economic sacrifices to raise children in order to subsidize their lavish lifestyles."Yeah. I've always thought that all Catholic priests, monks, nuns, and popes were parasites, too. Why was Mother Teresa so selfish? She should have been doing her duty and pumping out babies. Parasite.

But seriously,maybe you're just hyperbolizing here because there is certainly a lot of decadence among people who don't want to be saddled with children. I do certainly agree with that, though I don't see how they are parasites from a strictly economic point of view. They earn money, they spend it on their lifestyle. Wouldn't that stimulate a capitalist economy rather than be parasitic to it? Again I'm just speaking economically, not morally or culturally. I agree that people who close their lives off to children so they can live their self-constructed dreams are shallow, pathetic, and misguided.

Another problem that I see though is that the kind of decadence you protest against here does not always mean just a move toward childlessness, but rather a life that views children as commodities that people obtain when they say desire. Think Brad and Angelina, or Madonna adopting kids from Malawi. Many of the upper class in the U.S. are not simply avoiding having kids, rather they're making kids into consumer objects that they acquire when convenient and interesting. I find that just as worrisome, at least as an example of the direction of our culture.

Craig Carter said...

Halden,
Well done! You caught me in an overstatement. I was not thinking of people called to a celibate life. In macraoeconomic terms it is highly doubtful such people would ever influence demographic trends. I was, as you say, talking about decadence and materialism as motives for childlessness.

Longman makes a serious economic case for deliberately childless couples getting a free ride. Much of it has to do with the high cost in our society of raising children. It is in the hundreds of thousands in lost income for mothers who stay home, for example. Remember that childless couples are depending on younger workers being there in sufficient numbers to pay taxes and serve their needs when they retire - workers raised by people who made financial sacrifices and are not enjoying such a luxurious retirement.

In other words, the point is that society as a whole has a legitimate econcomic interest in reproduction. It is not reducible to a personal lifestyle choice.
And, I would add while the command to reproduce in Gen. is mitigated by NT eschatology so that singleness becomes a witness to the Kingdom, I don't think that can be stretched to imply that a society does not have the duty to reproduce itself at all.

Your point about the commodification of children is a good one.

Peter Dunn said...

Craig, I am enjoying this series of articles.

You say: "The environmental movement is right to be concerned about the need to care about our world and keep it clean." The current impetus in environmentalism is declare a clean gas, carbon dioxide, a pollutant and demonize thereby economic growth. This is mistaken science, for there is no consensus about carbon dioxide causing the planet to warm amongst climatologists. I have a very good friend who is an atmospheric physicist and confirms this point. Therefore, I think your statement is based upon incorrect premise. Environmentalism has become a religious movement with series and dangerous implications if its proponents remain in ascendancy. Now of course the environmentalists are panicked about development in Africa and overpopulation, because it will increase the carbon dioxide.

Craig Carter said...

Peter,
I didn't say the environmentalists are right about global warming. Frankly, I don't know who is right on that issue. When I referred to pollution I was talking about things like chemicals in the rivers from mines and the smog in Toronto from car exhausts.