It used to be taken for granted that the best indicator of a nation's health was its citizens' desire and capacity to reproduce. And it should still seem self-evident that people's willingness to have children is not only a sign of confidence in the future, but a sign of cultural health. It's a signal that people are willing to commit to the most enduring responsibility on Earth, which is raising a child.This is still fairly clear, I think. Despite the menacing moves of authoritarian Russia and communist China toward exercising regional hegemony (or more), both countries are severely limited in their aspirations by their birth rate trends. Russia is already aged and in crisis, China will almost inevitably be in such crisis soon.
But reproduction is also a sign of national health in a more dollars-and-cents way. The more productive people you have in your society, the healthier your country's economy. It's an idea that was obvious back in the 17th century, when economist Jean Bodin wrote "the only wealth is people."
That doesn't mean that married couples should have more kids so that we can forestall the Russians and the Chinese, though both of those nations, at present, pose a far greater existential threat to the peace and security of the United States than do Islamist terrorists.
I would argue that our reticence about having more kids in this country is rooted less in concern about the environment, a fear fostered Paul Erhlich's absurdly overwrought book, The Population Bomb, back in the the late-60s and 70s--a fear that many in my generation, fearful of having less, bought into, than it is in materialism and selfishness.
We had two children who I love dearly, but I wish that we'd had more. There's simply nothing like family living and being a dad is, for me, not only one of the biggest challenges in the world, but also one of its greatest pleasures. There's something beautiful and humbling about pouring yourself into your children and watching them grow up to be wonderful in spite of your parenting.
According to Gobry, there are practical reasons why the United States should be concerned about its low birth rate, "59.6 births per 1000 women," the lowest rate in US history:
Today we see the problems wrought by the decline in productive populations all over the industrialized world, where polities are ripping each other to shreds over how to pay for various forms of entitlements, especially for old people. The debates play out in different ways in different countries, but in other ways they are exactly the same. That's because they are ruled by the same ruthless math: The fewer young, productive people you have to pay for entitlements for old, unproductive people, the steeper the bill for the entire society becomes. This basic problem is strangling Europe's economies. And while the United States is among the least bad of the bunch, it is still headed in the wrong direction.While acknowledging that evidence for the effectiveness of government programs to encourage people to have kids is mixed, Gobry points out "the fact of the matter is that in contemporary America, 40 percent of women have fewer children than they want to."
Gobry suggests several ways government could entice husbands and wives to have more kids. But for me, the most compelling reason for bigger families is spiritual. The Bible teaches that it's more blessed to give than to receive. Apart from the fact that a nation with fewer children leads to scarcity, fewer opportunities, less productivity, and economic and military weakness, couples who have the wherewithal to raise families--and far more do than they think they do, learn the blessedness of giving to themselves to their kids, not indulgently, but with love that includes loving discipline, time, and personal investment. A parent learns that life isn't about what you keep, harbor, husband, or get for yourself, it's about what you give away.
Parents have a sacred and fulfilling two-fold responsibility. First, they are to prepare their own children for adulthood, nurturing them with the two sides of the coin of love: gracious love and gracious discipline. Second, they are to "make disciples," teaching their children to know the God we meet in Jesus Christ so that they can become not only their children, but God's children as well.
Parenting is a daunting thing. But God has also engineered it to be one of the greatest blessings a human being could ever experience. And, for those who seek to follow Christ, parenting can be a tremendous calling in which to learn love, humility, selflessness, and a right relationship with money and possessions, among other things.
OK, husbands and wives of child-bearing age, don't replicate the mistake of my own self-centered Baby Boomer generation, get busy and make babies.*
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]
*By the way, it has always struck me as absurd that people my age can get "senior discounts," something utterly unnecessary for most of us, while young couples with kids and mortgages have to pay full price. It ought to be the other way around, shouldn't it?