Our civilization is in serious decline. This is an unprecedented tragedy, but also a great opportunity for right to life to provide leadership in saving us from self-destruction.
To be specific, in every major developed country, the birthrate is way below replacement (with just two exceptions: Israel and the U.S., the latter of which hovers around replacement level). In Canada and Europe, every 100 adults produce only 75 children – a 25 per cent drop in a generation.
When deaths ultimately exceed births like this, there are some well-publicized economic and social problems. For example, it means a huge increase in Canada Pension Plan premiums, because there are fewer and fewer workers to contribute to the pot that is paid out to the retired. There also are more school closings and extinctions of small communities. Many more ills can be listed, as well as some benefits, of course.
But by far the most important effect – completely missed by pundits and social scientists alike – is simply this: God’s greatest gift, the gift of life itself and the hope of eternal life, will be available to fewer and fewer each generation.
Does Scripture give us any guidance? The parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us, among other important things, about the sins of omission as well as commission. The Levite and the priest, after all, didn’t beat the traveller half to death; they just failed to help him.
To see what sins of omission mean for the population question, let us do a thought experiment. Suppose a generation ago that everyone’s parents, wanting a little more leisure and comfort, had decided to have one fewer child. Everyone’s parents, including yours and mine. Would that have been a good idea? Well, if you were born into a desperately poor or dysfunctional family, the answer might well be “yes.” But for most of us, the answer is a resounding “no.” Such as, “No! Heck, my youngest sister Alma wouldn’t be here,” or “No! I wouldn’t be here myself, enjoying life.”
If we can see how grave a mistake this would have been for our parents, we can see how grave it is for us in this generation, who are actually committing this mistake left and right – producing shrinking generations in the very countries that could so easily afford growth instead of decline.
The concept of “sins of omission” is one of the great manifestations of love that distinguishes Christianity (and other religions, including Judaism) from much of secular philosophy. It is so important that it is worthwhile expressing it in other ways. For example, “Love thy neighbour as thyself” surely means that the happiness we want for ourselves, we should equally want for others, including those in the next generation.
For another expression, look at some of the old familiar hymns. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” God asks much more than forgoing the sins of commission. He asks us for a life totally committed, to do, as well as to avoid.
Above all, we must avoid the fallacy of thinking that two children per family are enough to “replace” us. This two-child fashion produces population decline, not stability. After all, there are lots of women – the infertile, the unmarried, the early divorced – who have only one or none. If we want to bring the average up to the replacement level of two children, there must be lots of parents who have more than two children.
Demographers have long known what happens if a dedicated minority within a population have a higher birthrate and pass this life-affirming value on to successive generations. They will soon become a majority and eventually will entirely replace the original majority that failed to replace itself.
So we need not despair that we live within what often seems like a culture of death. There is something we can do about it. And raising a large family is the most loving and creative thing that most of us can ever do. Let us celebrate it.
Tom Wonnacott teaches statistics and demography at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont.
Fertility rates in select countries*
United States 2.09
Hong Kong 0.98
*Fertility rate is the average number of children born per woman during their child-bearing years.
(Source: CIA World Factbook 2006)