The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

It’s Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

It’s Now Considered Morally and Ecologically Problematic to Have a Child. Really? A Consideration of This Direct Rejection of the Biblical Worldview

Vogue magazine in England ran a very interesting article a matter of weeks ago. It’s by Nell Frizzell. It’s not often on The Briefing we go to Vogue magazine, no matter where it’s published, much less Vogue magazine in England. Why, in this case? It is because the headline: “Is Having a Baby in 2001 Pure Environmental Vandalism?” Now, what we’re looking at is an anti-natalist worldview here, that is a worldview against babies, or at least raising the question as to whether having a baby as an immoral, rather than a moral act. The headline is stark in and of itself, but so is the article. But what’s most important for us to recognize is that this isn’t some kind of article that stands alone as making some kind of radical argument or raising a radical question that’s not being raised elsewhere.

The reason why I’m citing Vogue magazine from the United Kingdom is that this is actually appearing in a lifestyle magazine, an aspirational lifestyle magazine. As if to say the beautiful people, thinking beautiful thoughts, are now asking whether or not babies are immoral. Having a baby is immoral, an act of pure environmental vandalism in 2021. Now, Nell Frizzell, who wrote the article, by the way, came to the conclusion that yes, it might be pure environmental vandalism. But she had a baby anyway and she says that if her partner, that’s the language used, were to agree, she might have another one. But clearly she has a very troubled conscience about having a baby. And she’s basically in this article defending the decision to have a baby as if the obvious default moral position would be against such.

Frizzell asked, opening the article, “Is having a child an act of environmental vandalism, or an investment in the future?” “Is it possible,” she asked, “to live an ecologically responsible life while adding yet another person to our overstretched planet? Can I get away with it if I just never learn to drive, never get a dog and keep wearing the same three pairs of jeans for the rest of my life?” Now, we need to step back and understand that in worldview analysis, the questions that a culture contemplates tell us a great deal about the culture. The questions that are tugging at a social conscience tell us a great deal about the society. In this case, raising the question as to whether it is actually by default, morally wrong to have a baby, or even if it is now morally suspect to have a baby, that tells you that the entire logic of human civilization over all the millennia of human experience is being turned on its head.

Because in no previous generation of human beings, anywhere at any time, would you have had the issue raised as to whether having a baby is morally right or morally wrong. Just remind yourselves of the Christian worldview in the very opening chapter of scripture, where we are told that God’s first command to human beings is be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. You are looking at the fact that in our very strange post-modern times, you can have an article like this that might actually help to sell magazines. Because if this woman’s asking this question, no doubt there are many other people, many other women, asking this question as well. It’s also interesting to see the terms in which the author frames the issue, “For the scientifically engaged person, there are a few questions more troubling when looking at the current climate emergency than that of having a baby.”

So notice humanity, at least in Western nations, is now being divided between those who are scientifically engaged and those who are scientifically disengaged. Evidently one sign of being scientifically disengaged, according to this argument, is failing to see that deep moral crisis as to whether it is right or wrong, moral or immoral, to have a baby. The article then continues in which she makes the clear statement that if a woman decides to have a baby or not, it is clear that, “The declining health of the planet cannot help but factor in your thinking.” She goes on, “Before I got pregnant, I worried feverishly about the strain on the earth’s resources that another Western child would add.”

Notice here, the kind of Western guilt, the guilt of Western civilization that is being held up, as if having a child in the Western world is now even more morally suspect than having a baby elsewhere. She says that she worried about, “The food he ate, the nappies he wore, the electricity he would use before he’d even started sitting up.” She says, “My child would have already contributed far more to climate change than his counterpart in, say, Kerala or South Sudan. But I also worried about the sort of world that I would bring my child into, where we have perhaps just another 60 harvests left before our overworked soil gives out and we are running out of fresh water. Could I really have a baby knowing that by the time he was my father’s age, he may be living on a dry and barren earth?”

That is a picture of an ecologically disastrous dystopia. Here, we are told that the future of planet earth might come down to another 60 harvests. So this tells us that according to this reckoning, that a child born in 2021 may be in a world marked by absolute famine by 2081. As we shall see, by the way, this is a massive logical fallacy. It’s the fallacy of believing that current trends continue without any interruption, technological development or any other kind of intervention. This is exactly the kind of logic, the kind of deadly logic, that was exposed as being so false in the ecological crisis declared in the 1970s and in the ’60s, the so called population explosion. We were told in the 1960s, as we shall see, that the expanding planetary population would bring life to an absolute end with millions of people dying of starvation.

It didn’t happen. To the contrary, the world is now able to feed far more untold billions of people than would have been the case 50 years ago. The writer tells us, “While gestating my son and probably every day since, I’ve wondered whether having children is, in itself, an ecologically sound or unsound decision. Well, spoiler, like so much in this life, it’s not a simple binary.” So you ask, she raises the question as to whether she should have a child and then she tells us that even though she’s a scientifically engaged person who believes that disaster is imminent, she decided anyway to go ahead and have a child. So why did she make that decision? She doesn’t tell us everything intimately about why she made that decision, but she does tell us that the way out of this is politics.

She writes this, “People will always have babies here, there and everywhere.” Instead, she says, “It is a question of how we raise those babies, of learning to live within our environmental means, of turning away from the fever of consumerism and overturning a political system that rewards a tiny rich majority at the expense of everyone else.” Continuing the politics she writes, “As someone who’s attempting to raise a child with an awareness of ecological inequality, who tries to satiate his desires with human interaction rather than material consumption, who helps him appreciate the natural world, I hope that my son might contribute to future humanity rather than destroy it. No pressure, baby.”

The juxtaposition here of human interaction rather than material consumption is something that really is rooted in a kind of Marxist analysis. But even if it’s not self-consciously Marxist, it is self-consciously anti-consumerism, anti-capitalist. It’s anti the current political system. But here’s what you need to note. If you are looking at some basic human needs, let’s put human interaction very high on those needs. But so are basic issues of consumption such as food and water and housing, education, medical care. You can’t have an absolute juxtaposition between those two issues as if you have one or the other, or can live without either. To use the very logic of this author, it’s not a binary.

But then we fast forward to the fact that National Review magazine here in the United States, just in recent days, ran an article by Marian L. Tupy. It’s entitled, Against Environmental Anti-Humanism. This author in National Review is actually citing the article we just discussed from Vogue magazine in the UK. And what this author documents is, as we have seen, that the environmentalists representing a very radical environmental movement have been pressing this anti-natalist, anti-human, or anti-humanist, kind of agenda for decades now. And they continue to ignore the fact that number one, this worldview leads to death and to scarcity. And number two, that the world just seems never to turn out as they warn anyway. Now, in saying this, I’m not denying that there is a real ecological challenge and I’m not denying the scope and scale of that challenge. I am saying it can’t be defined the way these authors define it in secular terms.

Marian L. Tupy is exactly right. There is an anti-humanism here. And an anti-humanism in this sense is an anti-Biblicism. There is an anti-natalism. That means a judgment, a moral judgment, against babies and having babies that is contradictory to the biblical worldview. Tupy cites the fact that there are politicians in the United States echoing this argument, including representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, who said,, “It is basically a scientific consensus that the lives of our children are going to be very difficult. And it does lead young people to have a legitimate question, is it okay to still have children?” He writes, “Most anti-natalists are content with voluntary reduction of birth rates. Others hope to achieve that goal through government enforcement.”

He continues, “Prominent environmentalists, including Johns Hopkins University bioethicist, Travis Rieder and science popularizer, Bill Nye, have advocated in favor of special taxes or other state-imposed penalties on those with “too many children.” Yes, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, wants to tell you what the appropriate number of children might be, who’s having too many children and how government should step in, in order to stop this in its tracks. Now, keep in mind the fact that on The Briefing regularly, we have to come back to the fact that the real threat when it comes to humanity is not having too many babies, but too few. It is a falling birth rate that is becoming catastrophic. The catastrophe, not just looming over the horizon, but already showing up in economic and social and moral terms in places such as China.

Tupy rightly points, as we often do, to the Population Bomb, that was written in 1964 by biologist Ehrlich. Remember, he said back then, 1964, “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He went on to say, “In the 1970s, hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” Well, there were crash programs. There was the development of massive technological advances in farming. And not only did it not happen that hundreds of millions of people starved to death in the 1970s, at the very same time, and in subsequent decades, humanity discovered how to feed hundreds of millions more. This anti-natalist and anti-human philosophy was also made clear by others who are often identified as ecological heroes, such as Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who actually warned that the human conquering of illnesses might be a bad thing, because fewer people would die.

He said late in the 20th century that if these deaths did not happen, we will be in trouble. He thought instead, “We must eliminate 350,000 people per day.” Now, just get that, saying that we need to have 350,000 human deaths per day in order to avoid further ecological catastrophe. And that meant that disease is our friend, because disease kills people. Writing about viruses, such as Ebola in 1994, Richard Preston, who wrote the Hot Zone, a terrifying, true story, spoke of these viruses, Ebola and Marburg, as perhaps the biosphere’s reaction against what he described as “the human parasite” and the “cancerous rot outs” of what is described in this article as “advanced industrial societies.”

So what we’re looking at here, putting these two articles together, is the fact that the indictment of anti-humanism is absolutely correct. The indictment of anti-natalism, as we discuss regularly, is absolutely correct. And where you find this argument, that human existence is basically immoral, human population growing is a bad thing, having babies is inherently either morally suspect or just immoral, flat out, what you are facing there is a worldview that isn’t a modification of the biblical worldview. It is a direct rejection of it. It is absolutely a sign of the deadliness of a secularizing society. Because in such a secularizing society, you can’t do much of what the Christian worldview accomplishes. You can’t explain the meaning of the universe. You can’t explain the place of human beings within that universe. Human beings just have to turn out to be more highly organized and highly intelligent organisms than any other.

You’re looking at the fact that the entire dignity of humanity is undermined. The sanctity of human life becomes irrational, and the goal should be having fewer human beings rather than more human beings, because we have an impact on a world that would be better off without us. That is the refutation of the scripture worldview from Genesis to revelation. But that’s what you’re left with if God does not exist and he did not create the world and make us in his image.

Part II

Readers of the New York Times Celebrate the Declining Birthrate, Citing Warnings of a Coming Dystopian Future: But When Is This Long-Prophesied Ecological Disaster Supposedly Coming?

But next, I want to turn to a series of letters to the editor on this very issue. These appeared in the New York Times on June the 6th in the print edition. The New York Times had given several different articles, two pieces, indeed, that had raised concerns about the impact of a slower population growth and a declining birth rate. What’s interesting are the letters that came in.

One is a letter that came from Marian Starkey of Washington identified as Vice President for Communications at Population Connection. This writer tells us that it is a good thing that the world is facing this slide in population growth and is now looking at a lower birth rate, or falling birth rate. And this person writes, “If public relations campaigns can get billions of people to wear masks and stay six feet apart for over a year, surely economists and politicians can figure out how to restructure economies away from a strict dependency on infinite population growth. Perhaps the cleaner air and water that will result from our slower growth will even be inspirational.” Inspirational that there would be fewer human beings on earth? What’s one of the issues we need to note here? That mandate found in Genesis 1 to human beings to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth is tied to the Imago Dei, to the image of God.

That is to say, God wants to see his image multiplied and his image to fill the earth. God wants to see more human beings made in his image, not less. He will derive greater glory from more human beings, existing, consciously able to know him and to love him and to glorify him, who by their very existence display his glory, even in a fallen world. But here we are told that dependency on infinite population growth, that means more human beings, is unsustainable and the fact that a lowering of the birth rate will lead to ecological gains that might even be inspirational. But what would be the meaning of a world in which just secular human beings are looking at nothing more than meaningless dust?

Another letter came from Alexandria Paul, who’s identified as being on the Advisory Board of the World Population Balance Organization. And this person writes that in this world, in which there will no longer be a struggle for resources to provide food, water and housing for everyone, because you’re going to have a smaller population, she writes, “We will not contribute as much to climate change. We will live in harmony with nature and allow wildlife to thrive. Most people will have jobs, despite the rise of automation. There will be less traffic, less crowding, more open space. These are all crucial things to wellbeing.” Yes, fewer human beings. It’s going to be a good world, folks, despite the rise of automation, because less traffic, less crowding, more open space, we’re going to live in harmony with nature. You heard it here first.

Also, in the letters is one from a college sophomore, a young woman who says, “When I talk to people my age about having children, we don’t talk about whether or not we like kids or whether or not we would be able to support them. We write about the moral implications of putting more people on this earth to consume more resources. And we talk about not wanting our kids to live in the terribly uncertain future, one in which they could be facing a world of climate change disasters.” We ourselves are already facing it in many places, but it makes me want to speak to this young woman as if I could and say, do you not realize that if your parents had believed those who were prophesying ecological catastrophe, that would have already happened by now? If your parents had listened to them, you would not exist, nor would you be a sophomore in college, probably consuming a great deal of resources.

Carl Mezoff of Stamford, Connecticut writes that this falling birth rate is a good thing, a blessing, he argues. He concludes, “It’s been estimated that the earth is capable of sustaining a population in the range of 3 billion to 4 billion over the long-term. So if humanity has any hope of reducing global warming and the host of other destructive consequences of our fecundity, that means the high birth rate, we need to encourage declining birth rates and figure out how to deal with the economic consequences.” I just want to point to how cold that argument is. We’re talking about human beings here. And if you’re talking about getting the population of the world down to something in the range of what he calls for is 3 billion to 4 billion, you’re talking about getting rid of, one way or another, about half of all those now living. But hey, those who remain will be in harmony with nature. I wouldn’t tell that to a grizzly bear.

Part III

Watch Out! 15 Wild (And Potentially Drunk) Elephants Take a Wild Journey Across China

But finally for today, speaking of nature, the Wall Street Journal in a front-page article asked a very important question and that is, “Where do 15 wild elephants go?” If it sounds like a setup for a joke, it’s not. It’s a serious news story on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It’s a serious question. Where do 15 wild elephants go? The Wall Street Journal answers the question, “Anywhere they want.” The article was telling us about elephants who are on what now amounts to a 300-mile journey through China, headed in one direction, captivating millions. Sha Hua is the reporter in the story, telling us, “China’s latest social media stars are large, riding a sugar high and destroying everything in their path. They may also need a map.”

Now, the reason the article refers to these elephants, perhaps needing a map is that elephants tend to wander in the wild. But they don’t tend to move 300 miles in one direction. But they do have a lead elephant. And the lead elephant is, at this point, pointing them onward in a fairly straight line. They’re headed through China. The Journal reports, “In recent weeks, a herd of 15 wild elephants on a long, strange trip out of the jungles of the far of Southwest China have transfixed millions of people across the country. Since the elephants left a wildlife reserve near China’s border with Laos and Myanmar last year, they’ve marched steadily northward and since Wednesday evening have been roaming the outskirts of Kunming, a city of 8.5 million residents.”

The population of that city and the rest of the nation in China has been watching these elephants with tremendous interest. And frankly, it’s a very interesting story and they are fascinating animals to watch. But you’ll also be interested to know some of the twists and turns that have already been observed, “Videos of the parading pachyderms strolling down empty streets, breaking into a car dealership and in one case, of one mother elephant using her trunk to lift her baby out of a gutter have gone viral.” The article continues, “Along the way, the elephants have broken into homes and destroyed crops. All told, the herd has now caused more than 400 separate incidents of damage where some $1.1 million, according to China’s official state run news agency.”

As the Journal says, “15 wild elephants of this size go anywhere they want.” And they tend to trample on just about anything in their way. They are intensely curious. They are playful. They are powerful. And they are big. And they are putting on weight, because they have discovered human crop sources of sugar. And they’re on a sugar high. And it’s not just that. They’re picking up some very bad habits. “The elephants have shown a continued interest in wooden barrels of alcohol. Last month, one of the baby elephants passed out after imbibing a kind of fermented alcohol and was only able to rejoin the herd the next day.” “When they smell alcohol they’re actually after the fruit it’s made of,” said a scientist at the Chinese Academy of Science, but nonetheless, they are getting into the booze and even the babies are getting drunk.

And if the adult male Asian elephant can weigh up to four tons, and these are eating sugar and gaining weight, you add alcohol to the equation and you’ve got a very dangerous group of drunk elephants. But actually, drinking and walking may be a part of the problem here, because we are told that the lead elephant apparently keeps leading them further and further in a straight line, which is extremely unusual. But then again, maybe he has other things on his mind. But it seems to me that even as the Chinese government under its Communist leadership often acts in ways that are blatantly immoral, I think they’re doing the right thing in this case, deciding to let the animals continue on their way, paying the farmers for any destruction the animals may cause. And it’s true, as the Wall Street Journal says, “They’re going to go anywhere they want.”

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m today in Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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