Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Childless Nation and the New Pro-life Cause

This blog, originally posted in 2010 but revised in 2012, contains one of those messages that needs to be repeated every few months.

"But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific. They became so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them."

-Exodus 1:7

"History does not reveal the survival of a single nation with a declining birthrate in a moment of trial and crisis."

-Archbishop Fulton Sheen

Strength comes with greater numbers; and greater numbers for any nation are to be had through the generosity of married couples; that is, being generous with God by their willingness to have many children. Scripture "always" makes reference to children as a blessing. Americans, however, are coming to view children as a liability and another mouth to feed. However, with every mouth to feed there are two hands to help out around the house and a mind to invent solutions for today’s societal problems.

In recent years, many couples have made the personal decision not to have children. Today, however, even more people, sold on the myth that the earth is overpopulated, have made it clear that it is a civic duty for couples to have only a few children, if any. What was once a personal decision to have a small family is now a social mandate. In the twenty-first century it has been customary for families with five or more children to either get lectured, sneered at or to be given looks of disapproval by perfect strangers at the local grocery store. Even among the most educated and wealthy, after learning that a married couple are the parents of four, five, or more children, the common response is "wow!" What immediately comes to their mind are the sacrifices children require.

It is a true marvel of human nature that many or even the majority of 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 sin and the effect it has on the soul.

I’ll leave it to Steve Mosher and The Population Research Institute to provide all the statistical data why America and Western Civilization is headed for a demographic collapse (see: pop.org). The point here is that once people cross a certain threshold of prosperity, materialistic lifestyles set in, the appetite for sacrifice wanes and reproductive attitudes harden. It is usually at the tail end of this development that the State sees that a childless nation is not in its best interests. Although some European countries have come to this point, such as France, America has yet to realize that a family with many children is, in fact, a good thing for its longevity.

Historically, declining tax revenue and the disproportionate ratio between the young and the elderly are but natural results of a low birthrate. In response to this, governments typically offered incentives to reverse the trend. But when the harm of a nation that has gone childless was felt, it was often too late for political remedies.

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 that children are a burden to society.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church's teaching on contraception will undoubtedly be vindicated when the demographic winter has peaked. And we are just beginning- only just beginning -to feel the effects of that winter. We have to pray for our bishops and priests, that they may lead the way in encouraging married couples to be generous with God in terms of having children. It is incumbent on all Catholics, but especially bishops, to articulate what a childless nation portends.

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:

"If our birthrate should again decrease as it did 15 years ago [1933], 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. On the occasion of the fall of France in 1940, a French general gave the failure of the family to perpetuate itself as the basic reason for the nation’s debacle. In 150 B.C. Polybius, in writing about the decline of Greece, said: 'For the evil of depopulation grew upon us rapidly, and without attracting our attention, by our men becoming perverted to a passion of show and money, and pleasure of an evil life, and accordingly either not marrying at all, or if they did marry, refusing to rear children that were born, or at most, one or two out of the great numbers, for the sake of leaving their well-being assured, and bringing them up in extravagant luxury. The result, houses are left heirless, and like swarms of flies, little by little, the cities become sparsely inhabited and weak.'

Sheen continues: "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. 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…Invasion was a possibility from the time Roman morals began to decline."

Because the Baby-Boomers are many, and the children they had are few (my generation), we are now entering into an era of a top-heavy demographic of elderly people with far fewer workers and tax payers to support them. Excessive spending and deficits on the part of Washington D.C. only accounts for only a part of the reason why Social Security will be insolvent in a few short years. What receives little media coverage, I am afraid, even from the conservative media, is that the tax payer: senior citizen ratio is starting to even out. In other words, when Social Security was first implemented in 1935, some reports have it that for each senior citizen or beneficiary drawing from the program, there were at least 15 tax payers paying into the program. Now, however, there are about two tax payers per senior citizen.

Another trend to look out for, as a result of the low birthrate, is the growing advocacy and practice for euthanasia. Even if Obamacare should be ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, the medical community in the private sector will continue to opt for euthanasia-like procedures for purposes of expediency. In fact, it is already being practiced on a wide scale today. This is something the Church not only has to prepare for but as it stands, our society is in great need of repeated and clear teachings as to what constitutes a natural death, and what doesn't. And to be sure, papal and ecclesiastical documents, by themselves, are insufficient. A large number of people in the lay and political world do not read them.

In addition to documents, the pulpit and the media need to be utilized for a maximum reach. After all, due to the demographic challenges that lurk just around the corner, euthanasia will rival abortion as the new pro-life cause.

It should not surprise us that for those Baby-Boomer parents who put their children in daycare- not out of financial necessity but as convenient first resort to further their career -are now, as they reach the elderly age bracket, are being put into nursing homes by their children for the same reasons. Indeed, when children are primarily associated with sacrifices and restrictions, every demographic with special needs will be burdened with the same prejudice. Can we be surprised then, that what originated in the family is now prevalent in most medical and healthcare institutions.


In 1974, Harry Chapin came out with a big hit; the song was called: Cats in the Cradle. His song has proven more prophetic than anyone could imagine at the time. Believe it or not, it has a lot to do with low birthrates, daycares and nursing homes.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin' 'fore I knew it, and as he grew
He'd say "I'm gonna be like you dad
You know I'm gonna be like you"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home dad?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

My son turned ten just the other day
He said, "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw", I said "Not today
I got a lot to do", he said, "That's ok"
And he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son?
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said, "I'd love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job's a hassle and kids have the flu
But it's sure nice talking to you, Dad
It's been sure nice talking to you"

And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me
My boy was just like me...