A featured article in the August 13, 2013, edition of Time is "The Childfree Life" by Lauren Sandler. She begins the article by citing some sobering statistics. And for a moment, I thought that the secular media was finally coming to terms with the seriousness of the unfolding demographic crisis in America. And maybe, just maybe, this nation could start having an honest conversation of what a childless nation portends. Sandler reported America’s birthrate decline as follows:
"The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history. From 2007 to 2011, the most recent year for which there's data, the fertility rate declined 9 percent. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s. Even before the recession hit, in 2008, the proportion of women ages 40 to 44 who had never given birth had grown by 80 percent..."
However, my hope that Sandler would make a case for having more children was premature. Without any serious consideration of what a childless nation would portends, the Time contributor, avoids the issue. Instead, she addresses the unfairness of those couples who are childless by choice and are “judged” for it by their peers. And sadly, she celebrates selfish reasons why some choose not to have children. For instance, she makes reference to Jena Starker, a Web designer and one who is childless by choice, as saying the following about the difficulties of being a mother: “If it’s the hardest job in the world, I’m damn happy I don’t have to do it. You’re not supposed to say that, but it’s true.”
The featured article in Time is illustrative that people can be so zealously opposed to that which is absolutely necessary for a nation’s survival and happiness. Materialism and secularism can so twist human thinking that people can hate what is positively good for them and love what is positively bad. Such is the mystery of sinful humanity and the effect it has on the soul.
History shows that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, materialistic lifestyles set in, spirituality dries up, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes hardens. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. As such, political leaders try to legislate their way out of the demographic crisis, but with little success.
Although some European countries have come to this realization in our day, such as France, America has yet to realize that a family with many children is in her best interests. Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. America will be no exception to these trends.
In the last forty years, Catholics – both clergy and laity – have been bashful about what may prove to be the most prophetic and important doctrine of our times: the truth on contraception. As a result, very few teachings at the local and diocesan level (and even fewer sermons at Sunday Mass) have even mentioned what impact contraception has had on marriage, the family and culture. Our silence has left the door wide open for the propaganda – such as Time’s featured article – that children are a burden to society. Indeed, once children are widely portrayed more as a liability than an asset – viewed as mouths to feed instead of hands to build-up and minds to invent – then we can be certain that what America is suffering from what Ross Douhat, a New York Times columnist, termed “late modern exhaustion.”
No doubt, when this exhaustion leads to a demographic winter, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will be vindicated. And we are just beginning – only just beginning – to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our clergy and parish leaders, that they may encourage married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially our leaders, to articulate what a childless nation portends.
One such effect of a low birthrate is this: What the family loses, the State gains. When families shrink and breakdown, the State only increases and becomes more powerful. History bears witness to this fact. The present day challenge of American citizens to retain their liberty and prosperity can be traced (although not exclusively) to the breakdown of the family and the unwillingness of couples to have children. On the other hand, if the American people were to value having more children, this would be a sign of recovery; a harbinger of better things to come.
Long before the birthrate of the West became an issue, Bishop Sheen issued the following warning in 1948 with the publication of his book, Communism and the Western Conscience, He said this:
“If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago , and that decrease should continue, would we not become the prey of other nations? History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis…The decline of the population always begins with the economic top; those who could most afford to have children do not. The group less economically blessed produces more. Soon the infection against the family spreads from those in high economic brackets to those below, and a civilization goes into decline.”
Then he adds, “There is no doubt the State will claim more power for itself as the family declines, but the state and society are not identical. As the vital energy of society goes into decline, the mechanized bureaucratic machinery grows by leaps and bounds.”
This, no doubt, confirms the famous quote from the historian Arnold Toynbee, “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder.” But nations that welcome each and every human being that comes into this world and a people who celebrate children as a blessing from God, live and prosper.
Contrary to the views espoused by some Time Magazine contributors, children are always referred to as a blessing from the Lord in Scripture. Any nation that believes otherwise hastens their own decline. And decline is what a childless nation portends.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.