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Religion and Too Many People

Religion and Too Many People

In political campaigns, you get to talk with people outside your usual circle and experience their world views. I’ve spoken with folks who told me that the world was going to end within his or her lifetime, and so there was no point in voting or worrying about politics. I’ve spoken to others who said that everything is happening according to “God’s plan” and so there was nothing to discuss about environmental deterioration or other big public issues. And it’s very clear that limiting population is a hot button among some religious people who do participate in politics. Recently, the New York Times had a front page article titled “On the Right, Santorum Has Women’s Vote” with the following report about a political rally for Rick Santorum:

The performers asked each other and the crowd what they liked best about the presidential candidate. Camille Harris, 20, exclaimed into the microphone, “Seven kids! Seven kids!” Turning her attention to Mr. Santorum’s youngest, Isabella, born with a genetic disorder, the singer added, “Didn’t abort the last one, which is amazing.” Then several women in the crowd called out that Mr. Santorum was a Christian and a “man of faith,” and that he was “honest and honorable.” Bursting with enthusiasm, one woman said, “He’s for life!”

Mitt Romney, Santorum’s chief rival for the Republican nomination, has eight children, one more than Santorum, and is also against abortion. Numerous religions, including Santorum’s Roman Catholicism and Romney’s Mormonism, are critical of birth control beyond abstinence and applaud such large families. So far as I can tell, their religious doctrines give little consideration to what might happen if every fertile woman on the planet bore children like the two candidates’ wives. Some other thinkers do. The Negative Population Growth organization summarized what human fertility and health advances have done since 1900:

Human population growth in the past century was three times the total growth from the origin of the species until 1900. Coupled with sharply rising levels of resource consumption and economic activity in the more prosperous nations, that growth has imposed unprecedented strains on the ecological systems that support us and other living things. It has led in many parts of the world to rising unemployment, intensifying water shortages, increasing competition for resources, and the specter of hunger. It is affecting the world’s climate, and the consequences — rising sea levels, more powerful hurricanes, heat waves, and more intense floods and droughts — are becoming apparent. Population growth has depended on fossil fuels, which are running down. Future generations must depend increasingly on renewable energy, which is unlikely to be recoverable in amounts sufficient to support more than a fraction of current world populations. U.S. population has also quadrupled since 1900. The U.S. and the world are in a condition of overshoot.

To me, our fundamental world challenge is too many people consuming too much. But I see no way of convincing people who share a fundamentalist religious perspective that artificial birth control is a good thing. Their core “values” are too strong, and on population control there may be no compromise. I spoke to one woman at a lunch after a Catholic “Red Mass” and asked what she would do if there was a choice between a single-cell fertilized egg and the life of the woman. She said “That’s up to God to decide”, since in her faith a human soul embeds in the fertilized egg at conception. I pressed and asked what she would do with the souls of the 400,000 unwanted fertilized human eggs that rest in freezers around the country, and her only response was “They should never have been created.”

So far as I know, one or another fundamentalist set of religious beliefs may conform to ultimate reality, and that everything is happening as it’s supposed to. I do hope that mother-nature, who I see all around me, will continue to support you and me and our posterity, and I will act as if I have some responsibility for that happening.


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