Some rhythms and patterns are so regular that their interruption is all but almost impossible to imagine—the sun rises in the east, the seasons change, and life unfolds against a settled horizon of expectations. Indeed, the deep grooves of these established pattens are the very contours that constitute “normal life,” and their cessation has the character of a cataclysm. When sudden emergencies—like 9/11 or the COVID era—suspend these rhythms, these crises make visible what was previously taken for granted without a second thought.

And yet, there are some changes to these patterns which are so slow moving that they escape our notice—some shifts in our expectations and assumptions that are so gradual that we can barely detect them. These slow and incremental alterations in attitudes and habits unmoor what, for earlier generations, would have felt like fixed and immutable laws of reality.

Climate change is, allegedly, a crisis of this kind. But, with each passing year, it becomes clearer that the endless alarms of the always-deferred apocalypse are little more than a pretext for increasingly damaging policies of de-industrialization and ever-more aggressive curtailments of basic freedoms. Inflation is a better example. We have all felt the gradual pressure of quietly ballooning costs, and what is an inconvenience for some is a serious and destabilizing threat to others.

But no phenomenon illustrates this kind of gradual transformation better than the pernicious effect of “artificial contraceptives”—a term, taken in the broadest sense, which encompasses oral contraceptives, prophylactics, and even abortion. All of the cultural upheavals of the 1960s depended on the legal, social, and technological preconditions of contraception—of easy and acceptable means to suppress the consequences of sexual couplings.

The most lasting and damaging legacy of these tumultuous changes was the default assumption which it shifted: contraception transformed offspring into an option, a decision to take rather than a reality to be accepted. Of all the consequences of contraception, this is undoubtedly the most significant, and the drastic demographic changes which have followed from the novel mental framework speak for themselves: in Western, post-Christian nations—and many developed countries in the East where Christianity never took root – fertility rates are now far below the replacement rate that would even allow them to sustain themselves.

It might seem incredible that entire cultures now find themselves on the precipice of voluntary extinction without ever opting for suicide explicitly. But this is a direct effect of the seemingly slight shift produced by what Donald DeMarco, decades ago, called the “contraceptive mentality.” When children are no longer an inevitable result of companionate heterosexual pairing, the fixed biological horizon of futurity is foreshortened and pulled further forward into the present the longer procreation is delayed.

The Pill, as one commentator has recently observed, “was the first transhumanist technology,” and it enabled women to transform into infertile versions of themselves during their peak reproductive years. The illusion inculcated by this technology—that women could take their time, first in settling on partners, and then in starting a family—has produced a world inhabited and governed by non-parents; thus have the incentives and priories and values of childless adults shaped the last half century in a myriad of small but significant ways.

The responsibility of having children drives parents to mature, develop, and provide; it causes families to bond, strive, and thrive; and, on the most macro level, the reality of these small-scale pressures fosters innovation and growth of all kinds—men and women spend their lives making the future better for their children because their children make that future possible—indeed, they are that future. An awareness of this direct, biological continuum is the bedrock reality of human culture; without it, there is simply no incentive to build a better world.

Children forge a bond of charity between the generations. Adults sustain, nourish, and protect the young during the years of their development; and children, inheriting opportunities and responsibilities from their parents, take them on as their charges in the twilight of life. The virtues fostered within the family form a kind of moral infrastructure which expands outward into communities, civic life, and national identities.

Without these bonds, the thread of history frays. The past becomes inhabited by strangers whose values are incomprehensible and incommensurate with our own, and the future teems with threats to our comforts—after-comers whose very existence seems to impinge upon a finite set of resources which the anxious inhabitants of the present have no desire either to share or expand.

And so, in our age, we witness, simultaneously, the dilapidation of buildings, roads, and bridges and the multiplication of social media amusements and distractions. We seek out pleasures in the present, and banish from our minds any awareness of the reproductive conditions on which our societies—and even our social services—rest. The demographic and economic growth on which modern Western societies depend is a truth we willfully ignore; and, instead, we terrify ourselves with visions of a future ecological apocalypse instead of seeing the societal collapse on the horizon which our own choices have produced.

There is only one solution to this perilous predicament: we must enter confidently into the reproductive realities that previous generations have avoided, and willingly shoulder the responsibilities which they have shirked. Economic, cultural, and geopolitical crises loom on the horizon—but that is no reason to doubt the provision of Divine Providence, nor the strength of the Lord whose wisdom “orders all things sweetly” (Wis 8:1). After all, as an American poet once wrote, “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on,” and every child that is joyfully welcomed into the world calls down His blessings.

The children born into the world today become the protagonists of the times we will witness in our dotage. By forming families, raising children, and supporting everyone in our communities who are engaged in this high calling, we build up an ark for those who will need to weather the storms which thoughtlessness and selfishness have invited. But every storm passes and life, somehow, will eventually answer again to the adjective, “normal.” If heroic virtues are needed, in the meantime, to secure these blessings of prosperity and peace, this should remind us how precious the gift of a normal life really is.