Marriage, Birth-Control and the Myth of Over-Population: Reflections on 'The Natural Family' Allen C. Carson and Paul T. Mero

The Natural FamilyOn the sixth day of creation, God created man.  Genesis chapter two gives us a detailed account of that creation.  Out of the ground God created the male and named him Adam.  After he was created, this man exercised dominion over the created order by naming the animals over which he had been set in charge.  Soon, however, Adam came to realize that none of these animals would be an apt companion for him; so out of Adam God created a woman, Eve.  Together, these two would form a family, where, according to their natures, the man and woman would fulfill their respective roles: the husband would be the leader, protector and provider of his family while the woman would be a helper to her husband and would be the one to bring forth and nurture new life.

This blessed and ideal state would not last, however: disobedience against God would rob man of his moral innocence, corrupt his nature, and bring about judicial guilt.  God, as a result of this disobedience, would pronounce a curse on His creation.  No longer would man live in total harmony with other humans, or with the rest of creation; rather, sharp dissonance would pervade all of life: relationships would be fractured, men and women would attempt to abdicate or reverse their God-given roles, and the ground would no longer easily yield its fruit.  A curse indeed.

The fallout of the curse is easily seen today in the disregard for and perversion of the “natural family” by laymen, law-makers, political and religious leaders, and social activists.  On the other hand, Allan C. Carlson and Paul T. Mero understand that nature itself bears witness to the fact that the Creator has designed the family to only consist of the marriage between a man and a woman, and that this relationship is meant to be fruitful in the bringing forth and nurturing of new life.

Infertility and De-Population
Perversion of this natural order is seen especially in the world-wide problem of infertility and depopulation.  As Carlson and Mero write, “An increasing number of countries are experiencing below replacement birth rates due to misguided population-control programs that promote contraception, abortion, delayed marriages, and the abandonment of the institution of marriage” (222).  All over the globe, fertility rates are declining sharply.  Although the overall the world’s population continues to rise as a result of better diets and longer life spans, fertility rates continue to decline.  Some countries, like China, could be losing 20-30 percent of its population per generation by 2050.  In America, marital fertility has fallen by 35 percent since 1960 (66).

Carlson and Mero posit six factors that lead to this development: 1) Some wealthy and influential Americans (such as Gamble, Pillsbury, Moore and Rockefeller) believed war and poverty were the result of overpopulation and thus twisted the understanding of large families from “blessings” to “burdens;” 2) the commercial introduction of the birth control pill; 3) an ongoing retreat from marriage; 4) anti-natalist economic incentives; 5) a retreat from religious faith; 6) mass state education.  It is these six areas where I believe Christians must focus their attention for the good of their neighbor.

The first factor outlined by Carlson and Mero highlights a fundamental mistrust in the command for humans to “be fruitful and multiply.”  To hear influential Americans assert that we are in danger of overpopulation and thus conclude that children are “burdens” rather than “blessings” should prick a Christian’s conscience.  To recoil from the bearing and raising of children out of fear of over population reveals that those who maintain such a position consider God’s Word untrustworthy.  “Although He commanded us to “be fruitful and multiply,” he certainly could not have meant after the world population reached six billion—there’s simply not enough resources.”  Such a disregard for God’s truth should promote thoughtful action on the part of Christians.

Fear of Over-Population Unfounded
But the fear of over population is unfounded on empirical evidence as well.  Carlson and Mero report that economist Julian Simon “marshals evidence that increasing human demand for food leads to technological innovation and therefore to increased agricultural production and prosperity in the broader economy.” In other words, the greater the population, the greater the demand for food and other necessities, which leads to a development of technologies that meet those needs.  It appears that God has designed the created order to respond appropriately to his command to “be fruitful and multiply.”  As such, Christians must respond to such allegations in order to combat the false notion that overpopulation is truly a concern.

Christians also need to strongly consider the use and proliferation of the birth control pill for two major reasons.  First of all, many birth control pills are abortive.  Although it seems obvious that Christians should avoid contraceptives such as the “morning after pill” whose primary function is to not allow a fertilized egg to become implanted in the uterus, Christians, in general, seem to be inconsistent in following this principle all the way through to other forms of birth control.  Some of the more popular oral contraceptives, although their primary function is to keep the egg from being fertilized, are actually “tri-phasic,” meaning that they have three phases of “defense” against a pregnancy: 1) hindering ovulation;  2) blocking sperm; 3) and causing the uterine wall to thin and thus be unable to hold a fertilized egg.  Although the likelihood of an egg becoming fertilized is very low, doctors are unable to say, with absolute certainty, that fertilization will never occur.  Thus, the third phase of the contraceptive—an abortive action—may be utilized.

Asking Ourselves Why We Are Using Contraceptives
Christians should also think about oral-contraceptives more rigorously for another reason.  We need to ask ourselves why we are using contraceptives.  Is it to avoid the responsibility of a pregnancy?  Is it because we do not want our lives to be “burdened?”  We must not treat the reproductive process with such flippancy, thinking that it is something that we can merely turn on or off.  It is God who opens and closes the womb, and we need to be careful how we are attempting to “be like God” in this regard.  Oral contraceptives, unlike other forms of birth-control, affect the woman’s reproductive process by hindering ovulation and thinning the uterus; I wonder how we are able to continually subject our wives to this process and fool ourselves into thinking that it will not negatively affect their future ability to conceive.

Carlson and Mero also submit that a general retreat from marriage as a cause of a drop in fertility.  Christians can have a massive impact here as we promote the goodness and protect the covenant seriousness of marriage.  Within the church, pastors must teach and disciple his flock in such a way that marriage is held in high regard, and so that those marriages within the church might become an example to those outside the church.  We should also be about the business of opposing same-sex marriage protection laws and no-fault divorce policies, as well as any tax-law that penalizes marriage rather than rewarding it.

Pro-Natilist Economic Policies
The bearing and raising of children within wedlock should also be encouraged by pro-natilist economic policies that reward the married parents tax benefits for each child, so that financial burdens will be eased.  Christian lawmakers and laymen establish and support laws that promote the having of many children, not discourage it by allowing policies to be developed that penalize marital fertility.

Fifthly, Christians should see the general retreat from religious faith as an opportunity to preach the gospel and positively present the Christian faith.  It is in the darkness that the light appears the brightest.  Thus, the Church should take such opportunities to demonstrate the glory and beauty of fruitful and well-ordered families, and labor to show unbelievers why marriage exists and why God desires that we be fruitful and multiply.  People are bereft of such an understanding of marriage and family, and in the place of a vacuum, many and varied opinions are vying for acceptance.  Here we can demonstrate that only a Christian understanding of marriage and family truly satisfies the soul.

Finally, Christians must be leery of any mass state education that attempts to “subvert parental rights and authority” and endeavors to “substitute[e] a state morality,” where children “learn that their futures lie with the modern State rather than the pre-modern family” (71). Christian parents need to be aware of the overt and subtle ways in which children are taught in the local public schools, and exercise their right to pull their students from certain classes and speak directly to issues of curriculum and the content of the school and classroom.  Specifically, this means staying aware of any kind of teaching that attempts to undermine the goodness of the family and the moral imperative to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Encouraging fruitful marriages is also evangelistic.  God desires many worshippers around His throne; as Christians, we should desire the same.  To refuse to populate the world is to militate directly against Christ’s kingdom, for it lessens the number of potential members of that kingdom.  Thus, our responsibility to promote fruitful marriages becomes even more critical.  May we take up the task with wisdom, courage and joy.

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