Friday, November 4, 2022
It's Friday, November 4th, 2022.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
‘American Couples Didn’t Let Pandemic Isolation Go to Waste.’: Fertility Rates in U.S. See First Major Decline Reversal Since 2007
We're going to get questions quite shortly, but first, a very interesting headline coming out of the pandemic. At this point, looking backwards, demographers and statisticians are able to put some numbers to perception. The perception was that there might be a rise in the number of births, and thus in the fertility rate, under the condition of the COVID lockdown and the very slow reopening of at least some sectors in our society. But now the report is clear and indeed there was a baby bump or a baby boost. There was a rise in the number of babies born and in the percentage of married couples having babies during this time.
Jerusalem Demsas, writing for the Atlantic, talks about "The Great Pandemic Baby Bump." You're going to love the subhead, "American couples didn't let pandemic isolation go to waste." No indeed. They indeed decided to have babies. And the significant increase is reflected in the numbers. According to the research released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, what we saw was a baby bump in 2021 that represents the first major reversal in declining domestic fertility rates since 2007. We're told, "In total about 46,000 more kids are running around out there than anticipated or perhaps crawling around."
Now, we talk about this issue fairly often on the briefing because if there is any one issue that should have our attention in terms of the impact of worldview thinking when it comes to the fertility rate or the birth rate in a country, you are looking at the one thing that might be the clearest barometer about what people actually believe, how they see their purpose in the world, and whether or not they are committed to invest in the future.
As you look at the book of Genesis from the very beginning, the first command given to human beings is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. But what we have seen in the United States is that over a course of decades, the birth rate has not been going up, it has been going down. And one of the patterns we see is that the more people go to college and the more they earn higher incomes, the fewer children they have actually turned out to want and to have. Although there's a very interesting differential there, because at least a good number of American women indicate that they would want to have more children, but they feel constrained by some external reason that they're not having more children. And in many cases, that turns out to be vocational and economic.
The Atlantic article puts it this way, "For years, America's fertility rates have been declining, captivating the attention of academics and journalists." I simply need to point out that it should have the attention of Christians in the United States even before it has the attention of demographers and statisticians or journalists. The article cites Lyman Stone, he's a very well known demographic researcher, and back in 2018, he simply pointed this out, "Depending on how it is measured, birth rates are either at their lowest point in history or approaching it quickly." He also summarized, "Fewer babies are being born in absolute terms and especially in terms of the national birth rates." Later, we read in this article that Stone, "estimates that America would have almost 6 million more kids than it does," that means if the birth rate had not gone down. And then to say the obvious, the article gives us this word, "That's a massive shift."
Yes, that is a massive shift. It's a massive shift in the statistics. It is a massive shift in the birth rate. It also reflects what we know, and that is that that can only come about by a massive shift in the culture that has to be accompanied by, if not driven by a massive shift in the worldview of those inhabiting and shaping that culture.
This baby bump as it is called was not evenly distributed across the population, and some people are saying that that is for economic reasons or vocational reasons. There are some who had to keep on working in hotels and restaurants and hospitals and all the rest while others were able to work at home by some kind of remote work under the situation of the COVID lockdowns, which is when is the point at which most of these babies can trace their origin. Again, according to some of these statistics, the summary is that due to the situation of COVID and the lockdown, there are about 46,000 more children, as the Atlantic says, either running around or crawling around at the present.
The article does point to a socioeconomic issue that Christian should find a matter of our concern. "When the researchers looked at women ages 25 to 44, roughly the years women tend to have children, who had a college degree or more, they saw a pronounced baby bump as well." They hypothesized that this group was more likely to have kept their jobs during the pandemic and to work in jobs that became remote. The financial effects of the pandemic were muted for this group, and having a child likely felt more doable.
It's interesting, but these issues are not fully explained in this research that as you're looking at this baby bump, it was not evenly distributed across racial and ethnic groups. Indeed, the article cites about 23,000 missing black babies, but in contrast, an additional 22,000 babies born to Hispanic women, 45,000 to white non-Hispanic women, and 2,300 to Asian American and Pacific Islander women.
Now, a part of us should resist this kind of categorization. And as we have seen, these categories tend to be overly broad. But nonetheless, it does tell us something that this was not evenly distributed. Some people have argued that Black workers were more likely to have to be engaged in the service economy, but when you compare that to the fact that there was a significant increase in the babies born to Hispanic women, that socioeconomic or vocational explanation clearly can't be fully satisfying. There has to be something else going on here. What that is? Well, the data simply doesn't reveal a pattern other than the numbers of babies born or not born given the norm.
The Atlantic article is absolutely right on two things. Number one, declining fertility rates aren't just an American phenomenon. The reality is that this is sadly international. "A United Nations report shows that total fertility is fallen over recent decades in many countries." Today, close to half of all people according to this research "live in a country where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 live births per woman. The so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population stable."
Some people, by the way have said, "Well, it is because there isn't enough of a social safety net or a welfare state in place," and that explains why there has been such a decline in the birth rate. But the Atlantic was intellectually honest enough to state this, "Even countries with stronger social safety nets such as Sweden and Norway have seen declining fertility rates. Evidently, the complex decision making that goes into having a child is not perfectly reducible to the strength of a country's welfare state."
Again, Christians should look at that and say, "We are not denying economic impact." We're not denying that. We're not denying that economics factors into the thinking of couples when it comes to having children. We are not saying that children are now more expensive when it comes to having them and raising them than proportionately it was true in the past. We're not saying that. But we are saying as Christians, that can't be the essential answer to the question, because this is a more intimate personal, it is a more spiritual dynamic than can be explained in socioeconomic terms. And it's good to see the intellectual honesty in this Atlantic report conceding the fact that socioeconomic political factors alone simply aren't enough to explain this phenomenon.
But there's another very important issue that is affirmed in this article. Listen to this language, "The surprise baby bump is worth celebrating and worth studying to see if it contains any lessons for increasing fertility rates in the long run." Now, I find it a very positive development that in a magazine like The Atlantic, there is the acknowledgement that a baby bump is something to be celebrated, not something to be lamented.
And here's what I want to point out. The very same magazine may well run an article purporting to be on climate change that will suggest that what we need is a smaller human population. But this article reflects a very clear biblical principle, and that is that having more babies is good for a society. And indeed the future of not only our society but of the entire human society depends upon fulfillment of that biblical command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
So sometimes you take good news where you can see it. And first of all, there's good news in the numbers. There was a baby bump. But that will not be good news if it isn't sustained in terms of future years because America and other nations around the earth are actually falling further behind. Remember Lyman Stone's statement? "Depending on how it is measured, birth rates are either at their lowest point in history or approaching it quickly." Any reversal of that trend is good news, but on this issue, we need a lot more good news. And Christians understand that means we need the nurseries to be full and more full.
We understand this is not just about demographics, it's not just about economic growth, it's not just about the future of a civilization. It's about the glory of God in his purpose in creating the world and giving us the gift of children.
One of the other issues, by the way, we will be looking at as related to this question is the fact that the moral outlook of an individual changes massively with the arrival of children. Parenting changes the way we think. We'll be talking more about that. It gives us a much longer view as we think about our children and thus we take responsibility for shaping the future that they're going to inhabit.
We'll talk more about that lately.
New Dad, Does It Feel Like the Birth of Your Firstborn Child Shrank Your Brain? — Turns Out, That’s Exactly What’s Happened (And It’s a Good Thing)
But just before getting to questions, I want to tell you other news about having children. Men, dads, I'm going to ask that you just hold on and don't panic when I tell you this, but The Economist of London is now reporting very credible scientific research that the experience of having a baby, having a child has a physiological effect on the brains of dads, and that effect is to shrink the brain. You felt it. You suspected it. Now you know it.
The article in The Economist begins this way, now men, give us all your brain cells to understand this, "It is hardly surprising that pregnancy and childbirth, nine months of enormous changes to a woman's body also change her brain and they do by causing certain parts of it to shrink. Fathers, it might be thought, would be unaffected. But no, there is evidence that their brains shrink too. A paper just published in cerebral cortex by Magdalena Martinez Garcia of the Gregorio Marañón Health Research Institute in Madrid and her colleagues divulges the details, a study of expectant fathers, 20 from Spain and 20 from America, and also as a control, 17 Spanish men who did not have a baby on the way. And as it turns out, the experience of having the baby and having the baby in the house shrank the brains of dads."
Now as a father and now a grandfather speaking to other fathers, I just want to tell you guys, evidently this is an ongoing thing. It turns out that having children changes a man's brain and a certain part of the brain actually shrinks. Let me read to you from the report. "This shrinkage is not however evenly distributed. The biggest reductions are in the area at the back of the cortex where information from the retina is processed and interpreted. And in the default mode network, a piece of neural circuitry distributed between three different cortical areas, which is associated with daydreaming, mind wandering and thinking about the self and others." So evidently, the part of the brain that has to do with encouraging, the wondering of the mind actually shrinks. Pay attention, dad. Look at the baby.
Looking at this, there's also further news and this explains a lot and it's just a matter of testimony to the glory of God even in a story like this, because it turns out that changes in the brains of men turn out to be parallel to the changes measurable in the brains of new mothers. And at least a part of what's going on here is that there is affection directed toward the baby, attention directed toward the baby. There's something sweet reflected in what is simply scientific language, "Examination of the Spanish fathers in the latest study by measuring their brain activity while they looked at pictures of both their own baby and other infants showed a similar effect. It showed that those with the largest reductions in brain volume had the strongest MRI responses to images of their own child compared with the images of others."
I'm going to give you the last sentence from this article in The Economist. Remember, this is one of the most influential news magazines in the world. "Determining exactly how these pro parental neural changes come about in men is way beyond the current skill of neuroscience. But it is intriguing to observe that at least in the case of homo sapiens, a rare example of a mammal in which fathers as well as mothers nurture offspring, similar postpartum parental attitudes seem to be getting wired into both sexes."
Wow. Just think about that for a moment. It's almost as if this reflects a plan. And of course Christians understand that's exactly what it does reveal, a plan, the Creator's plan.
And by the way, there's a trade-off here. It turns out that if this research is telling us the truth, that as you are looking at these changes in the brains of men who become first time fathers, it turns out that they think more about their baby and their minds wander less.
I'm going to count that a gain.
How Do We Consistently Address Hard Issues From the Culture With Our Kids Without Discouraging Them? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
But next, we turn to your questions. So many good questions. I wish we could get to all of them every week. It turns out given the volume, that's impossible, but I hope we can get to some questions that will be particularly helpful not only to those who ask the questions, but to other listeners as well.
I was very moved by a mom who wrote in who says she listens to the podcast with her 12 and 13 year old sons. She writes, "The topics are often heavy and give us much to discuss. My older son commented, 'Mom, if we keep listening to this podcast, I'm going to become depressed listening to how broken our world is'." The mom says she sometimes feels the same way, "But as growing young men, forming opinions in worldview, it's important that they know the truth and how to stand on it."
She asked me to address the obligation of Christian parents to wrestle with these topics with our kids in order to prepare them for the world. Well mom, God bless you for asking this question and for listening with your 12 and 13 year old sons. And the comment you mentioned, you attribute to your older of the two boys. And I simply say this is a very interesting young man who is thinking very deep thoughts and seems to have a very highly tuned self-knowledge at age 13. So good for him and I'm glad he and his brother with you are listening.
But here's what I want to say. Look, I know sometimes these issues seem really heavy. That's why it's really pleasing to me sometimes to be able to talk about such things as father's brains shrinking with the arrival of a firstborn child and why that shows the glory of God. But there are nonetheless some very heavy things we have to discuss. But I'm not discussing anything that is not a part of the most urgent cultural conversation going on around us. I am specifically not looking for issues for their sensational value or their unusual character. I'm looking to discuss to address the issues that I think are most important at this time for how Christians need to think and to think biblically in order to be faithful at this moment in this society.
And so these issues are being thrown at us. I get tired of talking about some of these issues, and so I try to measure how often I even return to issues based upon how urgently these issues are, number one, changing. And in many cases, they're changing right before our eyes, like the argument for many aspects of the sexual and gender revolution. We notice the fact that they're changing the grounds of argument sometimes almost it seems day by day. But I'm also looking at how these issues are developing in terms of a necessary Christian response. And sometimes that means we have to talk about some pretty tough stuff.
But on the other hand, I simply want to affirm to you and to both of your sons that the basic confidence that Christians have comes down to the fact that God is sovereign, that he is ruling over the entire cosmos. Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And when people ask, "How can you talk about these things and think about them?" Day by day, I simply want to say, as an believer, I would have no idea how to address these issues. And that's why I think so often in the society around us, you see a secular panic. And you can see that secular panic on the right and on the left.
But this is where Christians can never give in to panic. That doesn't mean that we do not see very, very dangerous, very, very dark issues at times, but we understand that we are not ultimately in control, but God is. And thus we simply trust that our sovereign God is acting in these times and even in our lives and in these events to bring out holiness and sanctification in his people to produce faithfulness in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. There will be benefits for human flourishing in the larger society. That's why we have to keep thinking about these things.
And by the way, I really appreciate the honesty of this question because every single one of us should recognize we should find no satisfaction in the mere intellectual stimulation of thinking about these issues. We understand that human lives are at stake and we understand that faithfulness to the one true and living God is our command.
Thus, we look at this and we understand there are things we have to talk about. But thanks be to God, we do not reason about these things as those who have no hope. Because we certainly do.
And that hope has a name, and that name is Jesus.
Should Adultery Be Illegal? What About Homosexuality? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Okay. David writes in and he's a teacher and right now he's teaching through the book of Romans with his junior theology class.
That's just encouraging on any basis, I just have to tell you.
Thank you David for writing me and telling me that you're teaching the book of Romans to a junior theology class. And you say that the topic of same-sex marriage came up. "Several questions that were asked during the discussion. Should adultery be illegal? Should homosexual marriage be illegal? If adultery should not be part of the law code, then why should Christians have a problem with homosexual marriage being legal?" The school that's referenced here is a classical academy in Whites Creek, Tennessee.
David, you encourage me. Your class encourages me. Good question. And there's an easy, quick fundamental answer to this. And when I say it's easy, I mean in scripture it's easily found. And that is, that in the scripture you have marriage given as a part of God's gift to us in creation. Adultery is a sin against marriage, but it is not a redefinition of marriage. And that's what's important. Adultery actually is only adultery because it violates a definition of marriage that is given to us in scripture. One man, one woman exclusively for one lifetime. Adultery violates marriage. It doesn't repudiate it.
Same sex marriage, repudiates marriage. It is a denial of the very essence of marriage. Oddly, when we use the word adultery, it only makes sense because we do know what marriage is. But when you try to redefine marriage itself, that's where the problem becomes even more acute.
Now, your very intelligent students ask another question, and that is, should adultery be illegal? And the answer is in almost every civilization, to some degree it has been. And even in our society, at least until modern times, if not being a criminal charge, it was a legally significant issue in something like marital relations. And not to mention the question of divorce. Adultery became a very legally significant issue because it was in the law of God, and it is in any civilization that prizes marriage.
And so "illegal" might not be the right term in every society under every rule of law, but marriage must be rightly defined and marriage must be rightly defended, including the defense of the law. Otherwise, the law leaves defenseless what is central to society and ordered liberty.
What Do You Mean When You Refer to Yourself as Augustinian? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing
Next, Paul writes in to ask another very interesting question, and I appreciate this because this means that Paul is listening and he's found something he wants to ask me about, which means I need to explain this further. And that is the use of the term Augustinian. He says, "You often describe yourself as Augustinian when you engage various guests on your thinking in public discussions." He says, "Can you elaborate on what you mean by that? As a Baptist, he says, I find it difficult to sift through the Catholic orders in context of that time to understand the reference."
Great question, Paul. I appreciate being asked it. The term Augustinian in this sense means that I clearly identify with the clear orthodox mainstream of Western Christian theology. This means Western as compared to Eastern, as in Eastern orthodoxy. Augustine was the great theologian of the early church, in this sense, bridging the 4th and 5th centuries. It is believed that he was born in 354 and died in 430. He became the bishop of Hippo. And at that point, of course, the reformation is still far in the future, but it was Augustine who in confrontation with the reality of the Pelagian heresies, he clearly answered those heretics and established another baseline for Christian orthodoxy.
But beyond that, when we discuss Augustinian, we were discussing the fact that what Augustine recovered is the theological logic of the New Testament, particularly in answering the false understandings of righteousness and justification in grace presented by Pelagius and the Palladians. And what he reasserted was a very clear Pauline understanding of justification by faith and salvation by grace.
But we also have something else, and that is that Augustine was a leader in the early church during the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. In that setting, he wrote one of the greatest works in the history of Christianity entitled the City of God, in which he explained that a Christian lives in two cities, the earthly city, the human city on the one hand and the city of God. So the city of man is the earthly city, even the Roman Empire. And as Augustine said, it is always passing. Even though it looks strong, it is never eternal. The city of God is the eternal city. The city of God is the city of grace. It's the city of Christ.
Now, the point he makes is this, it is not by accident that Christians are left in the city of man in this age, as well as by God's grace through Christ, we become citizens of the city of God, our ultimate citizenship. Well, we're told that in the New Testament, our ultimate citizenship is in heaven. But by God's sovereign providence, we are also left in this world, in this life, as citizens of the city of man. Some specific city of man by the way. But what marks the universality of the city of man is that it is passing, it is temporal and it is marked by human sin.
But there's something else, and Augustine points this out and it's really important for us to understand. This is a basic impulse that helped to produce Western civilization. And that is this, even though the city of man is not to be confused with the city of God, the same one, true and living triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit rules over both cities. And both cities will eventually absolutely reflect the absolute righteousness and justice of God. And in this age, even in an age of human sinfulness, God works by his grace in the city of man to preserve certain goods.
And that is why a mother still loves her baby. That is why you have human beings who do have an impulse that is described by love of neighbor. Even if it's imperfect and we are sinners, it is still a good thing that we want to take care of one another. We want to help someone whose car is broken down on the side of the road. We have an impulse to do what is right, to build up what is required for a community, a neighborhood, a civilization. Augustine pointed out that that must never be confused with gospel work and with the ultimate reality of the city of God.
But the city of man is not unimportant. It is important because God and his sovereignty has assigned his church to be salt and light in this world. And this means by the way that we can never give ourselves as Christians to utopianism, nor can we give ourselves to an absolute cultural pessimism. It means that we're the people who weren't surprised when sinners sin and when society reflects human sinfulness. And it explains why we also understand that contending for that which is right and good is actually an act of faithfulness to Christ. And that means when we defend the sanctity of life and the womb among other things, we're not doing so simply because it is a command and a rule and a biblical teaching, but because this is a situation in which the glory of God is at stake even in the city of man, and thus, we have a responsibility.
So Paul, I appreciate the question. When I say Augustinian, I mean the great theological recovery of this understanding, which in so many ways is absolutely integral and essential to explaining how Western civilization as we know it even came to be and why Christians were so involved in that project.
And certainly, it wasn't a perfect project, but it's a project nonetheless for which I am incredibly thankful as I continue to be in the city of man, even as my ultimate citizenship and yours as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is in heaven.
We are left here for now for a purpose.
What Language Did Adam and Eve Speak? — Dr. Mohler Responds to a Letter from a 9-Year-Old Listener of The Briefing
But finally for today, I'm going to end with my favorite question submitted this week. It is by a young man, a nine years old, writing from New Zealand. His name is Daniel, and he says that he, along with other members of his family, listens to The Briefing every morning while driving to school. "My question is, how did Adam and Eve communicate with each other? What language did they speak?"
Daniel, I just have to tell you, we have no idea what language they spoke, but it is interesting that when you look at the book of Genesis, as you know the first book in the Bible, it does make very clear that after human beings sinned, a part of what came as God's judgment was the confusion of different languages. And by the way, Daniel, that is going to be overcome in the Kingdom of Christ. So we have that to look forward to in heaven.
But Adam and Eve, at least so long as they were in the garden, had perfect communication in a perfect language. And Daniel, I'll simply say, because we are so imperfect, we do not know what that language was. And after human sin came into the world and after the Tower of Babel, God made certain that we could never actually get back to that language. That's why right now we're divided by language. Thankfully, Daniel, you and I speak the same language, although with a slightly different accent.
But the best answer I can give you is that whatever language it was, Adam and Eve were able to communicate because God made them able to do so in his own image. They could communicate with each other perfectly. One day, Daniel, I am certain, given the promises of God, that we will be able to do the same thing in heaven. I'm looking forward to that.
Well, whatever language you speak, thank you for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again next Monday for The Briefing.