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The Very Sad Childfree Life

Childfree Life1

Time Magazine's recent cover story "The Childfree Life" has generated a good deal of controversy and commentary. The photo that graces the cover of the edition pretty much sums up the argument: a young, fit couple lounge languidly on a beach and gaze up at the camera with blissful smiles—and no child anywhere in sight.

What the editors want us to accept is that this scenario is not just increasingly a fact in our country, but that it is morally acceptable as well, a lifestyle choice that some people legitimately make. Whereas in one phase of the feminist movement, "having it all" meant that a woman should be able to both pursue a career and raise a family, now it apparently means a relationship and a career without the crushing encumbrance of annoying, expensive, and demanding children.

g9510.20_Childfree.CoverThere is no question that childlessness is on the rise in the United States. Our birthrate is the lowest in recorded history, surpassing even the crash in reproduction that followed the economic crash of the 1930's. We have not yet reached the drastic levels found in Europe (in Italy, for example, one in four women never give birth), but childlessness has risen in our country across all ethnic and racial groups, even those that have traditionally put a particular premium on large families.

What is behind this phenomenon? The article's author spoke to a variety of women who had decided not to have children and found a number of different reasons for their decision. Some said that they simply never experienced the desire for children; others said that their careers were so satisfying to them that they couldn't imagine taking on the responsibility of raising children; still others argued that in an era when bringing up a child costs upward of $250,000, they simply couldn't afford to have even one baby; and the comedian Margaret Cho admitted, bluntly enough, "Babies scare me more than anything." A researcher at the London School of Economics weighed in to say that there is a tight correlation between intelligence and childlessness: the smarter you are, it appears, the less likely you are to have children!

In accord with the tenor of our time, those who have opted out of the children game paint themselves, of course, as victims. They are persecuted, they say, by a culture that remains relentlessly baby-obsessed and, in the words of one of the interviewees, "oppressively family-centric." Patricia O'Laughlin, a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist, specializes in helping women cope with the crushing expectations of a society that expects them to reproduce. As an act of resistance, many childless couples have banded together for mutual support. One such group in Nashville comes together for activities such as "zip-lining, canoeing, and a monthly dinner the foodie couple in the group organizes." One of their members, Andrea Reynolds, was quoted as saying, "We can do anything we want, so why wouldn't we?"

What particularly struck me in this article was that none of the people interviewed ever moved outside of the ambit of his or her private desire. Some people, it seems, are into children, and others aren't, just as some people like baseball and others prefer football. No childless couple would insist that every couple remain childless, and they would expect the same tolerance to be accorded to them from the other side. But never, in these discussions, was reference made to values that present themselves in their sheer objectivity to the subject, values that make a demand on freedom. Rather, the individual will was consistently construed as sovereign and self-disposing.

And this represents a sea change in cultural orientation. Up until very recent times, the decision whether or not to have children would never have been simply "up to the individual." Rather, the individual choice would have been situated in the context of a whole series of values that properly condition and shape the will: family, neighborhood, society, culture, the human race, nature, and ultimately, God. We can see this so clearly in the initiation rituals of primal peoples and in the formation of young people in practically every culture on the planet until the modern period. Having children was about carrying on the family name and tradition; it was about contributing to the strength and integrity of one's society; it was about perpetuating the great adventure of the human race; it was a participation in the dynamisms of nature itself. And finally, it was about cooperating with God's desire that life flourish: "And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it" (Gen. 9:7).

None of this is meant to be crushing to the will, but liberating. When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive.

It is finally with relief and a burst of joy that we realize that our lives are not about us. Traditionally, having children was one of the primary means by which this shift in consciousness took place. That increasingly this liberation is forestalled and that people are finding themselves locked in the cold space of what they sovereignly choose, I find rather sad.
 
 
Originally posted at Real Clear Religion. Used with author's permission.
(Image credit: TIME Magazine)

Bishop Robert Barron

Written by

Bishop Robert Barron is Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is an acclaimed author, speaker, and theologian. He’s America’s first podcasting priest and one of the world’s most innovative teachers of Catholicism. His global, non-profit media ministry called Word On Fire reaches millions of people by utilizing new media to draw people into or back to the Faith. Bishop Barron is also the creator and host of CATHOLICISM, a groundbreaking, 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic Faith. He is the author of several books including Thomas Aquinas: Spiritual Master (Crossroad, 2008); The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (Orbis, 2002); and Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith (Image, 2011). Find more of his writing and videos at WordOnFire.org.

Note: Our goal is to cultivate serious and respectful dialogue. While it's OK to disagree—even encouraged!—any snarky, offensive, or off-topic comments will be deleted. Before commenting please read the Commenting Rules and Tips. If you're having trouble commenting, read the Commenting Instructions.

  • Abe Rosenzweig

    Nobody better than a celibate man with no children to lecture others on their decisions regarding parenting...

    • Abe, please review our Commenting Policy which explicitly prohibits ad hominem attacks. It's fallacious and doesn't promote fruitful dialogue.

      • Octavo

        It's pretty rude to call an article "The Very Sad Childfree Life." Right out of the gate, it insults quite a lot of us.

        • WhiteRock

          It's in direct response to the claims being made in the article and is very pointed, Octavo. Fr. Barron wasn't making a sweeping generalization for *all* childless couples.

      • Green_Sapphire

        Brandon, calling a priest celibate is hardly an ad hominem attack, since I understand that Catholics consider it to be a virtue. However, it may be, as you say, fallacious, since studies have found that only about half of priests are celibate at any given time.

        On the other hand, I think it is appropriate for a priest to discuss the church's view on aspects of human life and meaning.

        On the other other hand, I agree with Octavo that the title is insulting and presumptuous. Since all surveys show that childless people are consistently happier that folks with children, it is also factually wrong. But maybe those people who think and feel and act like they are happy are not really happy because Robert has another better meaning of happiness.

        • fredx2

          Hmm. I just saw a survey that said childless couples were less happy.

          • Jenny

            Yeah? Post it. I've never seen that survey. I've seen several which support the position that having children hurts marital satisfaction.

          • KateDSweet

            He found it in the same place where he found scientific evidence for god. *cough

          • Forbidden Fruit

            Happiness is relative. Forcing a child-free person to reproduce would make them quite miserable, just as forcing a breeder NOT to have kids would ruin their life in many ways. Happiness isn't a competition.

          • Sarah Mackay

            There are in fact different kinds of happiness. There is happiness IN your life and there is happiness ABOUT your life. Thus there is enjoyment and lifes pleasures as happiness IN your life and there is meaning and accomplishment ABOUT your life. I have definitely seen studies (sorry don't have the link now) that show that childless couples have more happiness IN their life, but less happiness ABOUT their lives.

          • susan

            Fredx2 and Geena: I've seen all sorts of surveys that say all sorts of things.

          • Keith Cassinger

            Nope.

          • Child-LESS or child-FREE couples? Childless couples tend to be couples that want a child but are unable to have them for whatever reason. Childfree couples have no desire whatsoever to have children.

        • KateDSweet

          Brandon used a lot of words that he doesn't understand.

          • Michael Murray

            Hi Kate, Just for your info Geena got banned awhile back during The Great Purge. You can find her over here at Estranged Notions:

            http://outshine-the-sun.blogspot.com

        • SassyA

          Questioning somebody's childless life to which you have contributed nothing every is ad hominem attack and far worse, yet it is permitted. Women especially need to set up some boundaries against these saaad nobodies.

      • Max Driffill

        I know I've kind of taken my things and left, but I'm not sure it is a poor observation to make on the part of Abe. Noting that the priest who penned this article is celibate, was not an ad hom, Nor was it an ad hom to call into question the priest's ability to say meaningful things about family life, child-rearing given that his institution is about as isolated from the world of family as it is possible to get. I would like to see you address this Brandon, and in a serious way.

        • fredx2

          Most priests spend years and years in parishes. Every day, people come to them with their problems. Serious problems. Priests often see the practical effects of choices people make. Priests may be considered to have a unique practical place from which to experience real life, and to experience it throug the experiences of literally hundreds if not thousands of people over the years. Normal people probably do not get such a focused infusion of raw data from which to draw conclusions.

          • Max Driffill

            None of those experiences qualifies priests to comment on lives they don't live. They are in no place to make pronouncements or judge those who are child-free.

            They are isolated. They don't know about the costs or worries associated with raising kids. They don't know how it affects the dynamics of relationships. Seriously. They are viewing this question without meaningful experience through the blinders imposed by a very narrow ideology.

          • Angry1541

            Yup, until you live it....right?

      • txvoodoo

        Calling a priest a celibate man is not an ad hominem, it's a statement of fact.

      • Elsa

        Awe :) look at you attempting to use a smart person word! Maybe next time you'll get it right.

      • Fallacius

        AHAHAH

      • Charles Joseph

        eat a dick Brandon.

      • Angry1541

        I find his comment perfectly on point. It is very much the agenda of the church to promote procreation. Thus, this is a very biased take on couple deciding to not add to overpopulation, understand they wouldn't make good parents, whatever. It's their decision, no one else's.

      • Keith Cassinger

        He's right though.

    • Hi, Abe--I'm married and have eleven kids. Want to know why I still agree with the "celibate man with no children"?

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        Yes. Yes, I do. Please explain in as much detail as possible, using as many words as possible (diagrams would be useful), and I promise you that I'll dedicate every fiber of my being to digesting what you have to say. I'll just be sitting here reading the Entertainment Weekly that I took from my dentist's waiting room, so take all the time you need.

        • Abe Rosenzweig

          So THAT'S what Abby Elliot's been up to! I had been wondering.

        • Let's narrow it down and attempt to avoid the need for diagrams-- ;-) --do you have any particular question or comment about the original post that you would want me to address?

          • Abe Rosenzweig

            No, in fact I've changed my mind about the whole situation. This dialogue was indeed fruitful.

            brb, gettin' baptized!

        • WhiteRock

          Sarcasm and ad hominems - do you really think this will lead to a fruitful discussion?

      • ziad

        It's refreshing to see that there are some families that are still open to life. God bless you and your family!

        • Max Driffill

          That is too many kids. Seriously.

      • Suizou Suizou

        You have a farm and need the help?

    • ziad

      I do not think there is anything wrong with that. Do you expect a psychiatric or psychologist to have been mentally ill to know how to diagnose and treat patients of that illness?!

      • Abe Rosenzweig

        Not only do I require them to have BEEN mentally ill, I require them to be mentally ill at the present. I only seek the services of the sickest doctors.

      • WhiteRock

        "Those who can't do, teach" comes from somewhere ;)

      • Max Driffill

        There is a key difference. The two professions you are discussing also utilize statistically significant, scientifically gathered research to guide diagnoses and treatment. The clerics do not (except on the rare occasions when some research seems to support rather than refute their claims). What they do is make pronouncements about complicated matters through religious filters.

    • Abe said:
      [---
      Nobody better than a celibate man with no children to lecture others on their decisions regarding parenting...
      ---]

      Please keep in mind that the Roman Catholic priest may be celibate, but he begets children in Christ as the ordinary minister of baptism. This is why we call him Father. The Divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply can be satisfied both carnally and spiritually. Having said that, a person does not attain knowledge only through personal experience. I don't mandate that my doctor have cancer before he can treat me. Perhaps you should rethink your objection.

      • Max Driffill

        Keep in mind that is not anything like the same things as actually raising real children, absorbing the expenses they generate etc. In fact the priestly act of "being fruitful and multiplying" is so unlike real parenting that it can be ignored in discussions of child having and rearing completely.

      • Suizou Suizou

        Ha! Funny stuff!

      • Rachael Lefler

        If the mandate to be fruitful and multiply can be fulfilled spiritually, then it follows that a lay person can also be a spiritual mother or father to the younger generation, as a teacher, mentor, aunt, uncle, etc.

      • Will

        I don't mandate that my doctor have cancer before he can treat me.

        Yes, but your doctor isn't recommending that you get cancer, lol. The celibate man is recommending you do something that he never intends to do himself.

      • Angry1541

        Seriously -- baptism is NOTHING like raising an actual screaming baby....nothing like it...if a parishioner dies, it's not the priest going to prison. He has only a tenuous responsibility to his flock....legal he bound to nothing and even protected when intentionally harming some. Your argument would be considered delusional outside of it's religious context.

    • Patrick John Doran

      They just want us to have children so they can diddle them.

    • Peter A.

      I agree. Such sanctimonious nonsense this article is.

  • Dan Ortiz

    It is interesting to notice the rise of child-less couples and the rise of atheism in america. Correlation? or causation?
    Of course we cannot really say but atheist couples tend to be unmarried and child-less out of choice.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Is it true that atheists couples don't marry and have children?

      • They certainly reproduce at a far lower rate. This is well-documented.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          So atheists reproduce largely philosophically.

          Catholics reproduce largely physiologically.

          • 42Oolon

            This atheist can't wait to have kids, I see it as the greatest project in life. But I have friends who, for very selfless reasons do not. It simply has nothing to do with belief in a God or lack thereof.

          • Vuyo

            If you don't mind me asking, for what selfless reasons do they not have kids?

          • 42Oolon

            Friends with depression and anxiety who are scared that they would be bad parents.

          • Emmet

            Fair enough. I call my kids "walking anti-depressants". I have suffered from mild-moderate depression and was scared it would affect my parenting, but it hasn't. It's easy to say, "Step out in faith, have a go," but that's what I'd say.

          • Gentillylace

            I am a 46-year-old practicing Catholic who has never married or had children. My diagnoses include severe depression with psychotic features and borderline personality disorder (which are in remission due to good medication and therapy, thank goodness). I decided in my twenties that I should never have children because I did not pass on my bad genes (and in case I committed suicide, I did not want to devastate them). It took me another ten years to realize that I was not called to marriage -- even though I consider artificial birth control wrong. Somehow I thought that I could manage a marriage where the sex was almost exclusively heavy petting and there was very little intercourse (through natural family planning, of course). Of course, the practicing Catholic men I met who were interested in marriage were interested in having children, and I did not want to marry a man who was not a practicing Catholic. On the whole, I am glad I never married or had children: I was too emotionally immature to take on those responsibilities when I was physically best prepared for them, and I would have made myself and others miserable.

          • vito

            I think you made the right decision. From my own experience, the mental and spirtual issues that we have (although mine might be less serious, yet who knows - maybe I have never been properly diagnosed) will only be exacerbated by a child. I falsely assumed that they might somehow go away, as there will no longer "be time for that". Believe me, the reverse is true. First solve the issues/ get well, if possible, only then think about children. I would not say the same about marriage (or having a partner/boyfriend/girfriend in general) though - all that contributed a lot to my well-being and relative happiness, and has take virtually nothing away. But if you are against birth control, I guess this is not an option for you.

          • 42Oolon

            Well I think this is my problem. When people do not want kids and think they will be bad parents, that should be enough. There are enough bad parents, scary parents. I don't think anyone should "have a go" especially on faith. Don't experiment wit kids. Think long and hard if you want them, can afford them, can deal with the stress and responsibility.

          • "Friends with depression and anxiety who are scared that they would be bad parents."

            Those seem like good reasons, but we should note the couples covered by the Time article, and the couples under consideration here, in our main article, did not display any signs of mental illness.

            We could also point to the thousands of great parents around the country who transcend depression and anxiety to raise wonderful children. Heck, as a parent-of-four, I think all of us parents go through periods of near-mental illness at some point.

            Overall, I'm not sure "fear of the unknown" is a legitimate reason *not* to have kids. All prospective parents share that fear to some degree. All parents wonder whether they might end up being bad parents.

          • Nulligravida

            I missed the memo that said that I must proffer a "good reason" to be childfree.

            I simply do not want to be a parent. What is so hard to understand about that?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Glad you want kids. They *are* life's greatest project, in my opinion.

          • "This atheist can't wait to have kids, I see it as the greatest project in life."

            I'm curious about this last sentence. What about having kids makes it the "greatest project in life"?

            The word "greater" implies something "greatest"--what philosophers would call the summum bonum ("the highest good"). What would that be in your mind?

          • 42Oolon

            I meant most important and fulfilling. It has huge potential for good and bad.

          • Dan Ortiz

            Atheism propagates like all non-familial groups, by common goals and by building communities. The rise in atheism we have seen in the west in the last decade can be directly linked to online communities fostering such ideas like a common notion that religion is evil, causes harm, causes war, etc. Eric Hoffer said it best, "you can have a mass movement without a god, but you cannot have a mass movement without a devil"

          • Green_Sapphire

            I, um, wow! The rise in atheism first comes from the reality that many folks in churches don't actually believe in a deity but attend for other reasons. In Canada, for example, about a quarter of weekly-attending Catholics do not believe in a deity, nor do about a third of the weekly-attending Protestants. In the less active nominal Christians, the ratio is probably higher. Since the stigma of being 'out' as an atheist, agnostic, freethinker, humanist, secularist, or skeptic are declining, more of them will gradually acknowledge their lack of faith.

            The second source of the rise in atheism comes primarily from improvements in the standard of life and security and higher education. There are simply fewer roles for which a deity seems to be required.

            The third source is because of the advances in science and technology which can explain many things that were once considered to be part of divine mystery.

            The fourth source, more recent, comes out of reaction the actions of believers: to the rise in militant Islam, especially after the attacks of 9/11, as well as the anti-science stance and anti-science political activities of some religious groups, Christian and Muslim, and the millions more in Africa living with HIV/AIDS because of the Catholic church's active campaign against condoms. These are not ideas about religion, as you write, but actual harmful actions by believers in the name of their religion. As long as religion was considered a generally benign force in previous decades, many non-believers were content to ignore it.

            The fifth source, as you note, is due to the impact of the Internet and social networking, which increasingly allows all kinds of online and real life connections and communities to develop, including those of non-believers.

            By the way, atheists don't believe in the devil either.

          • Dan Ortiz

            "By the way, atheists don't believe in the devil either." Well duhhhhh.... You missed the point of the quote. Eric Hoffer means that mass movements need an enemy, overarching, evil, etc. Not the belief in a spiritual demonic being (although some atheists would do that).

            "The rise in atheism first comes from the reality that many folks in churches don't actually believe in a deity but attend for other reasons" This is not a cause but a result. The "Sunday Assembly" for example is a gathering of mostly atheists in London (i'm sure you've heard about it). Is this the reason why they are atheists? or is it an outcome of more self-identified atheists?

            "The second source of the rise in atheism comes primarily from improvements in the standard of life and security and higher education. There are simply fewer roles for which a deity seems to be required." This is a good point, actually called the "Existential security" theory by Inglehart and Norris. The problem with this is that it does not apply across the board and it is a cultural specific form of atheism, specially found in Europe and more specifically in the Slavic countries. This is not the reason why there is a rise of atheism (or should we say neo-atheism) in Western countries like the US or the UK.

            "The third source is because of the advances in science and technology which can explain many things that were once considered to be part of divine mystery." This is a non-issue. This is really 19th century (wishful) thinking about global secularism. This claim is falsified because the 20th century was a very religious century, leading up to the present decades. The fact that the rise of atheists numbers is big news points to this notion being false. Unless you think that the last 20 years have been of massive scientific discoveries?

            "The fourth source, more recent, comes out of reaction the actions of believers: to the rise in militant Islam, especially after the attacks of 9/11, as well as the anti-science stance and anti-science political activities of some religious groups, Christian and Muslim, and the millions more in Africa living with HIV/AIDS because of the Catholic church's active campaign against condoms. These are not ideas about religion, as you write, but actual harmful actions by believers in the name of their religion. As long as religion was considered a generally benign force in previous decades, many non-believers were content to ignore it." As I said, a mass movement needs a "devil" to get going. Why do you think the likes of Hitchins took aim to Mother Teresa or Dawkins called WLC a 'genocide' supporter? They need to create the idea that religion is all evil to get atheists working together. Now, there are others that create this: Positive Atheism, Debunking Christianity, etc... and these are more apt at creating this idea than the books are... and these are online.

            "The fifth source, as you note, is due to the impact of the Internet and social networking, which increasingly allows all kinds of online and real life connections and communities to develop, including those of non-believers." As I said, this is to me the major force/reason for the rise of the neo-atheists. All the others are part and parcel but they were there before, maybe even centuries before... why the major change? The internet.

            Another issue to add to your list would be the cultural wars in the US, and this is what fuels a lot of the discussion online, even though the cultural wars don't affect people outside the US, you will still find many british atheists group arguing against 6-day creationism. Funny world.

        • Andre Boillot

          Could you then document it?

        • Max Driffill

          If it is well documented then please, document it. Provide links to peer reviewed research.

    • 42Oolon

      Actually the US has a significantly higher rate of fertility than Canada, Japan and most European countries. One speculation for why this is is the higher level of religious people.

      Another theory is urbanization. Nothing is conclusive as far as I know as to what drives these rates, though much study has been made.

      There was a great course on iTunes U from Yale that I listened to that was incredibly interesting.

      • WhiteRock

        The percentage of "religiousity" between Canada and the US is marginal, 42Oolon, a ~10% variation according to recent data. However, the actual number is different simply due to the fact that the US has a larger population - but statistically speaking, it should affect both cultures the same way, no?

        • OK. I heard the US was an outlier in the global North in terms of religion and fertility.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I think that marrying and raising a family is one of the primary ways God has designed into human life to transform us into the kind of virtuous persons he wants us to be.

    Virtually no one know this going into marriage, but if one is faithful to one's wedding vows, the transformation in virtue will begin.

    Still, I think atheists can offer good reasons to have children and to go to the effort to raise them well.

    • Peter Piper

      Do you have any evidence that people who have had children will later in life behave more morally than people who have not?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        Getting married, devoting yourself to another person, and then both of you devoting yourselves to the care and education of your children, and all the effort and sacrifices that entails, are the normal ways most people get out of their selfishness and live for others.

        It is not the *only* way, which is why celibate people can also become virtuous.

        • David Nickol

          . . . the normal ways most people get out of their selfishness and live for others.

          This quote struck from Lionel Shriver's novel We Need to Talk About Kevin, me:

          Yet if there's no reason to live without a child, how could there be with one? To answer one life with a successive life is simply to transfer the onus of purpose to the next generation; the displacement amounts to a cowardly and potentially infinite delay. Your children's answer, presumably, will be to procreate as well, and in doing so to distract themselves, to foist their own aimlessness onto their offspring.

          The mother of Kevin is writing about her husband's belief that the answer to the "Big Question" (something along the lines of what is the purpose of living) is to have children.

          There is something rather schizophrenic about the Christian belief that having and raising children is so important, when it is also the Christian (or at least Catholic) belief that celibacy is a "higher state." Such an attitude did not make its way from Judaism into Christianity because, it is not found in Judaism.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I didn't say that the purpose of life is to have children, although human life won't go on if people don't. I'm saying that having children is the usual way people grow in selflessness, that is, if they are just toward their spouse and children.

            As I also said, people can become virtuous and holy outside marriage.

            I don't think there is anything schizophrenic about seeing celibacy for the kingdom of Heaven higher than marriage. I'm sure you know the reasons why Catholics consider them in that hierarchy.

          • David Nickol

            I'm sure you know the reasons why Catholics consider them in that hierarchy.

            I know the superficial reasons, which I don't find terribly convincing. But I suspect the deep reasons go back to Paul, Augustine, and other early Christian thinkers who had very negative views about sex. I think it is fine for individuals to choose celibacy, and I think it is fine for married people to choose not to have children. But I don't see celibacy as a "higher state" than married life. It is, of course, no surprise that a celibate male Church hierarchy would make it into some kind of dogma that celibacy is superior to marriage.

          • "I know the superficial reasons, which I don't find terribly convincing...But I don't see celibacy as a "higher state" than married life."

            David, what's your understanding of why the Church teaches consecrated celibacy--note, not *all* celibacy--is a "higher state" than sacramental marriage?

          • David Nickol

            David, what's your understanding of why the Church teaches consecrated celibacy . . .

            Off the top of my head, without resorting to the Catechism, I would say that there are two or perhaps three reasons. First, celibacy frees someone like a priest to devote himself entirely to his work and does not distract him from giving of himself to others. Second, it is personal sacrifice. Third, it is a witness to the time after the resurrection of the body when there is no marriage.

            Here is a stray thought that often pops into my head in these discussions. As I understand it, eternal life after the final judgment and the resurrection of the body will have no marriage. Glorified bodies are thought to be of an ideal age, so everyone will appear in their middle 30s. Those of us who die in old age will be younger, and those who die as children will be adults. The thought that bothers me is eternal life will be entirely without children.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The thought that bothers me is eternal life will be entirely without children.

            We will be the children, with all the innocence, wonder, zest, and beauty, with also the power and wisdom of adults.

          • David Nickol

            We will be the children, with all the innocence, wonder, zest, and beauty, with also the power and wisdom of adults.

            I am afraid I don't find this at all convincing, although you might have quoted Jesus saying, "“Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." The NAB says, "[T]he child is held up as a model for the disciples not because of any supposed innocence of children but because of their complete dependence on, and trust in, their parents. So must the disciples be, in respect to God."

            I think there is something in our biology that causes us to respond to children, and I can't see how some spiritualized version of that after the resurrection of the dead could make us respond that way to fellow adults. I think you are basically just dismissing the idea of existence without children in an afterlife with a glib remark, kind of along the lines of "if you need your dog to be happy in heaven, then your dog will be in heaven." It dispenses with the question rather than taking it seriously. If children are so important in this life, it is a stunning thought that eternal bliss will allegedly be achieved without them in the next.

            I suspect there is really not very much about children in Catholic thought because, as I have been arguing, our conception of childhood was formulated quite recently. And how many married people have been canonized as saints? And of those, how many were made saints because of something to do with marriage and the family? St. Monica can presumably be counted among them, but St. Thomas More's marriage and family life have little or nothing to do with his sainthood.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Then, why don't you elucidate why children are so important in this life so we can see if those reasons hold in eternal life?

          • Dave H

            The "deep" reasons you give seem much more superficial than your superficial reasons.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            One reason celibacy for the kingdom of God is so valued is that it imitates the way Christ chose to live on earth.

            Another is that it gives one a total availability to serve God that a married person does not have.

          • David Nickol

            One reason celibacy for the kingdom of God is so valued is that it imitates the way Christ chose to live on earth.

            Of all the ways Jesus chose to live on earth, being unmarried and childless strikes me as among the least important to imitate. And in some notable spots in the Gospels, Jesus did not seem particularly sentimental about family, including his own.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            And in some notable spots in the Gospels, Jesus did not seem particularly sentimental about family, including his own.

            I don't know that Jesus *ever* displays sentimentality in the Gospels, but he always had the highest praise for his mother, despite superficial appearances.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think it is fine for married people to choose not to have children.

            As you probably know, from the Catholic understanding of the nature of marriage, if a couple go into marriage with the intention of never having children, they are not really married, regardless of what their license might say.

            So, for Catholics, choosing not to have children is a reason not to get married.

          • Vickie

            Actually, priestly celebacy is not a dogma.

            Though the following article does not speak to celebacy directly it does speak to the life of a priest and might express why the consecrated celibacy of the priesthood could be described as a "higher state". http://www.crisismagazine.com/2013/the-priesthood-and-the-choice

            Jesus said "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" Jn 15:13. This is often looked at as laying down one's life in death but it can also be seen as laying down how you live your life or to sacrifice one's life by dedicating it. Jesus did both of these things. He lived his life for us as well as dying for us.

            The idea that the value of celibacy comes from a negative view of sex is, frankly, outdated. The value of celibacy is precisly because sex is so valuable. One should enter into sex as an act of love but sometimes forgoing or abstaining from sex is an even greater act of love

          • WhiteRock

            It's funny you say this Kevin, as the naturalist, if in full agreement with his worldview, would have to admit that the purpose of life is indeed to reproduce ;) However, for the Catholic, the purpose of marriage is companionship & children. However, should God not wish to grant children to the couple for whatever reason, that is also just fine. I think the critics of this article are overlooking the fact that there are many religious couples who can't have children, but want them. "Childlessness" simply on it's own is not what's being analyzed in this article.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Correct. The OP is about couples who choose childlessness.

          • "There is something rather schizophrenic about the Christian belief that having and raising children is so important, when it is also the Christian (or at least Catholic) belief that celibacy is a "higher state."

            David, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure associating Christian beliefs with serious psychological disorders is the right way to go. You could have just made your point without that remark.

            But in response to your comment, there's no logical contradiction between valuing children and praising celibacy as the "higher state." If there is I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

          • David Nickol

            I'm not sure associating Christian beliefs with serious psychological
            disorders is the right way to go. You could have just made your point
            without that remark.

            I was, of course, using schizophrenic in the non-psychiatric sense per Merriam-Webster's Unabridged:

            3 : contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes
            <both parties … have exhibited schizophrenia over the desired outcome — Elizabeth Drew>

            I suppose I could have phrased the remark in terms of cognitive dissonance.

            How "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him," and, "That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body," got lost and we wound up with "Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire," is beyond me. It is difficult to understand how marriage can be used as such an exalted metaphor (Jesus as bridegroom, the Church as the Bride of Christ) and on the other hand celibacy can be considered "higher" than married life. The Catholic (or Christian) idea that virginity and celibacy are better than sex and marriage is not something that I am the first to notice! I think it is carried to the extreme in the notion that the Virgin Mary was so "perfect" that she was a virgin before the birth of Jesus, during the birth, and after the birth (ante partum, in partu, et post partum) is based on the strange notion that a woman's body is less than perfect if she is not an intact virgin, even if she is a virgin. It seems to me an idea that comes exclusively from a male point of view—as of course it does. The Marian doctrines were not formulated by women.

          • ziad

            Dear David,

            Just wanted to start off by saying that I admire your posts and the thoughts and research that you bring to this cite. I truly enjoy reading them.

            As in regard to why Celibacy is seen as higher than marriage, it is because in the afterlife there will be no marriage, except "spiritual marriage" with God. Just as the man and woman become one flesh in marriage, we become one with God in Heaven. As members of the Church, we would be united with Christ. This is not to say that marriage is not exulted because the Church puts it as a sacrament (While celibacy in itself is not a sacrament). Celibacy is a witness to what we will encounter in the next life.

          • "It is difficult to understand how marriage can be used as such an exalted metaphor (Jesus as bridegroom, the Church as the Bride of Christ) and on the other hand celibacy can be considered "higher" than married life."

            I guess I just don't see the difficulty. Marriage is phenomenal, and celibacy is as well. But celibacy is considered the higher state because it instantiates what it symbolizes.

            As you rightfully note, marriage is a sacrament because it's a sign of Jesus' marriage to the Church, and also a signpost to our ultimate destiny, namely complete union with God. On the other hand, a consecrated celibate lives out that reality (albeit incompletely) on earth--they forgo human relations in order to "marry" themselves to God. This divine marriage, which earthly marriage only points to, is naturally higher.

            So I guess I still don't see the problem or contradiction.

            "I think it is carried to the extreme in the notion that...a woman's body is less than perfect if she is not an intact virgin, even if she is a virgin."

            I'm not aware the Catholic Church teaches this. Please show we where you find this teaching promoted by the Church's magisterium.

            "It seems to me...that [Mary's perpetual virginity] comes exclusively from a male point of view—as of course it does."

            I'm not sure how you arrived at this conclusion, or why it matters. This seems like a case of the genetic fallacy.

            "The Marian doctrines were not formulated by women."

            Again, I'm not sure why this has any bearing as to whether the Marian doctrines are true, or what they signify.

            But I will grant that you are correct if by "formulated" you mean "dogmatically defined". They were of course defined by popes, and popes, by definition, must be men.

            But the formulation of Marian doctrines like the Immaculate Conception (which is actually dogma) originate with women. Mary herself communicated the truth to another young woman, St. Bernadette.

          • David Nickol

            I'm not aware the Catholic Church teaches this. Please show we where you find this teaching promoted by the Church's magisterium.

            From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

            499 The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the "Ever-virgin".

            From the old, online Catholic Encyclopedia:

            . . . the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost extended to the birth of Jesus Christ, not merely preserving Mary's integrity, but also causing Christ's birth or external generation to reflect his eternal birth from the Father in this, that "the Light from Light" proceeded from his mother's womb as a light shed on the world; that the "power of the Most High" passed through the barriers of nature without injuring them; that "the body of the Word" formed by the Holy Ghost penetrated another body after the manner of spirits.

            Here's a quote from Introduction to Mary: The Heart of Marian Doctrine and Devotion by Mark I. Miravalle

            The Fathers of the Church overwhelmingly taught the "miraculous birth" of Jesus that resulted in no injury to the Blessed Virgn Mary's physical integrity. St. Augustine stated: "It is not right that He who came to heal corruption should by his advent violate integrity." Later, St. Thomas Aquinas would defend the miraculous and painless nature of Christ's birth. As light passes through glass without harming it, so too did Jesus pass through the womb of mary without opening of Mary's womb and without any harm to the physical virginal seal of the Virgin, who was pure and the perfect tabernacle of the unborn Christ. . . .

            In his Papal Constitution, Cum quorumdam hominum (August 7, 1555), Pope Paul IV admonished all those who deny that the Blessed Virgin Mary "did not retain her virginity intact before the birth, in the birth, and perpetually after the birth" . . . .

            So it is clear that the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary consists of far more than the idea that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. The quote from Augustine is very telling. A woman who is not a physically intact virgin is damaged or corrupted even if she never had sex with a man. Even if the only thing "wrong" she ever did was give birth.

        • Peter Piper

          Sorry, I thought that you were claiming that parenthood tended to make people more virtuous rather than that it involved virtuous behaviour (namely looking after the children). Since you have provided no evidence for such a claim, can I assume this was a misunderstanding on my part?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't follow you. Being a good parent requires virtuous behavior (good acts) and virtuous behavior creates virtues (the habit of good acts of a certain kind).

            As far as social science goes, I don't know of any studies comparing married vs. singles in terms of morals or virtues.

            There is virtually no research of any kind on virtues to my knowledge.

          • Peter Piper

            I understand your theory, but since, as you say, there isn't any evidence for it, I'm not yet convinced.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            The "evidence" is an argument based on reason looking at experience.

            I think one can think it through and see the promise in the one and the lack of promise in the other.

          • Peter Piper

            It is so easy to make mistakes about this sort of thing that I am loath to accept arguments of this type. I apologise if you find it frustrating that I am not convinced, but one of the aims of this site is to bring us into contact with very different worldviews. I hope that you will at least be able to understand how I approach this sort of discussion, though you take a different approach.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Maybe you could gather some empirical evidence in support of the value of the mature married man who works and exercises authority and sacrifices if you compare him to these 30-year-old single men living with their parents playing video games.

          • Peter Piper

            I note that your comment does not mention having children (sacrifices and authority may be about children, but there are many other kinds of sacrifice and authority).

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I meant father.

          • Peter Piper

            Then your comment relies on stereotypes of parents and non-parents. But it would be a bad idea to base our judgment on such stereotypes.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't know what stereotype you mean. I mean if you are husband and father, and you take your marriage vows and responsibilities seriously, you will change.

          • Peter Piper

            The stereotypes I mean are those you employed in your comment, namely that of fathers as mature married men who work, exercise authority and sacrifice and that of male non-fathers as 30-year-old single men living with their parents playing video games.

            Leaving aside the fact that many fathers do not take their marriage vows and responsibilities seriously, I have nowhere contested the claim that having children changes you. What I am questioning is whether this is generally a change for the better.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            It depends on whether you think generosity, hard work, patience, fortitude, prudence, self-control, and justice, among other qualities, are to be desired.

          • Peter Piper

            As you might expect, I do. Was it uncertainty about this that prevented you from providing evidence? If so, please feel free to rely on the claim that all of these are good things in making your case.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Baby is crying. You pick up baby and try to attend to her needs. Baby won't stop crying. This sound is very distressing to you. You wish baby would stop crying. She won't.

            You DON'T toss her out the window. You DON'T hit her. You don't put her in a crib, close the door, and plug your ears. You endure this and try to figure out what's the problem so you can help her.

            In this way, you become more patient and self-controlled. This is one of thousand ways that being a parent can help one become "more" of a person, provided you do the right thing.

          • Peter Piper

            As I said before, I understand the argument you are trying to make but am not convinced by it. The reason is that it is easy to construct fallacious arguments in this style. To illustrate this, I will provide a few such arguments that being a parent makes you a worse person. Note that I don't think that these arguments actually work, they are just to illustrate that it isn't hard to come up with such arguments in the opposite direction and so that arguments like this are not to be trusted.

            1. As a parent, you get used to being in a position of authority and so begin unconsciously to treat others as if you had more authority over them than you do.
            2. As a parent, you must give clear and simple moral instruction to your kids, so you begin to lose the ability to deal with the nuances which are often important in moral judgment.
            3. As a parent, you have less time to interact with friends and so your ability to form strong friendships wanes.
            4. As a parent, you become too easily swayed by arguments in the `think of the children' style, and this clouds your moral judgment.
            5. As a parent, you become accustomed to prioritising the needs of your own family above those of others.

            To avoid misunderstanding: I don't find any of these arguments remotely convincing. They are just to illustrate my earlier claim.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think for your objection to be valid, you need to construct a false argument you find convincing and that cannot be easily refuted.

            And to avoid misunderstanding: I have never been tempted to toss baby out the window!

          • Peter Piper

            Not so. I just need the bad arguments to be as convincing to me as yours is (not a high bar). This is in fact the case. My point is that such arguments are not convincing, and so if I presented one that I found convincing then I would have refuted my objection instead of supporting it.

        • Nulligravida

          Oh. So why is it that when a child is abused, neglected, starved, beaten or murdered the perpetrator(s) are most often the child's own parents and not these confected "selfish" chidfree adults?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What does your comment have to do with my comment?

          • Rachael Lefler

            Yeah not all people who become parents grow in virtue as a result. If anything it might cause some people to justify certain vices because "mommy worked hard so she needs a little drink or two", "daddy earned that weekend at the casino", etc. until they turn to full blown addictions that consume their lives just because they feel justified in taking a break from the kids or because parenting is so stressful.
            Example: I know someone who smokes heavily and probably wouldn't if she didn't have children.
            Not ALL parents act like this but not all of them become saintly due to parenthood, either.

  • Peter Piper

    There are two distinct issues intertwined in this OP. Firstly, whether it is morally OK to not have children, and secondly, the extent to which individual choice ought to be constrained by social norms.

    On the first issue, there is only a short explanation of why Fr. Barron thinks having children is required of married couples:

    Having children was about carrying on the family name and tradition; it was about contributing to the strength and integrity of one's society; it was about perpetuating the great adventure of the human race; it was a participation in the dynamisms of nature itself. And finally, it was about cooperating with God's desire that life flourish: "And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it"

    Since the issue of whether there is a God is a key topic for discussion here and so cannot simply be assumed, we cannot rely on the last of these reasons here. As for the other reasons: the particular names or ancestry of children in the next generation is a pretty morally neutral matter, and there doesn't seem to be any reason why someone would be morally obligated to ensure that the next generation has people in it with their own surname. On the other hand, the adventure of the human race and the dynamism of nature can be easily supported in other ways, so again there is no obligation on any particular couple to have children.

    So it seems that Fr. Barron has not taken the time to provide adequate reasons for the claim that there is a moral imperative towards childbearing.

    On the second issue, Fr. Barron suggests that childless couples do not see moral values as applying to themselves, and that it would be more appropriate for their actions to be constrained by the moral values he supports. He does not take into consideration that childless couples may have considered arguments like those I mentioned above and, like me, found them to be inadequate. But it is for the protection of people in this latter sort of situation that widespread tolerance is so important.

    • Peter, I think you're missing the main thrust of Fr. Barron's article, which is found not in the paragraph you quote but in the *next* two paragraphs. Fr. Barron writes:

      "When these great values present themselves to our freedom, we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive.

      It is finally with relief and a burst of joy that we realize that our lives are not about us. Traditionally, having children was one of the primary means by which this shift in consciousness took place. That increasingly this liberation is forestalled and that people are finding themselves locked in the cold space of what they sovereignly choose, I find rather sad."

      His point is that a willed decision to not have children is, in many cases, an inherently selfish one, a decision that locks you into the shackles of self-love.

      Children help fix this. As any parent knows they demand a Copernican revolution of the soul.

      • Peter Piper

        His point is that a willed decision to not have children is, in many cases, an inherently selfish one, a decision that locks you into the shackles of self-love.
        That is what I called the first issue, and I think I addressed it above. I didn't quote the paragraph you quote, because I considered it to be a verbose restatement of the claim rather than a justification of it. Fr. Barron failed to make the case that this decision is inherently selfish. Parenthood is, as you say, a life-altering choice, but I would like to see some evidence from you that the alteration is generally towards more virtue.

        • Peter, which is more desirable for human flourishing: selfishness or selflessness?

          Or to pose it another way, if a genie met you and gave you two options, one of which you had to accept, would you choose to be 100% selfish or 100% selfless?

          • Peter Piper

            100% selfless, I think. Neither option is great: I would not live especially long if I were 100% selfless. But I reckon that on the whole the damage I might do if I were 100% selfish is worth avoiding.

            A mixture is desirable for human flourishing, but one including more selflessness than selfishness.

          • Peter, thanks for the excellent response. It's clear you really thought through your answer and I appreciate that.

            You say:

            "Neither option is great: I would not live especially long if I were 100% selfless."

            I'm not sure this is true, but even if it was, it infers that "living as long as possible" is your ultimate end. Am I right in drawing that conclusion?

            "A mixture [of selfishness and selflessness] is desirable for human flourishing, but one including more selflessness than selfishness."

            This is interesting. Perhaps I can ask, how do you define "human flourishing"? And why is selflessness more beneficial to this view of human flourishing than selfishness?

          • Peter Piper

            I'm not sure this is true, but even if it was, it infers that "living as long as possible" is your ultimate end. Am I right in drawing that conclusion?

            I can see why you might infer that, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is my ultimate end. I would only say that staying alive is one of the things I value strongly.

            Perhaps I can ask, how do you define "human flourishing"? And why is selflessness more beneficial to this view of human flourishing than selfishness?

            I can't think of any way to explain what I usually mean by this term except with some sort of metaphor, and the metaphor of flourishing is as good as any other. But since I think you were hoping I would explain it in my own words, I will give a couple of others: First, living so that your life becomes a kind of parable. Second, a life which is wonderful music. As well as these metaphors, I tend to structure my thinking about human flourishing around particular examplars such as Socrates, Jesus, Richard Feynman and some non-famous people whom I know personally. I apologise that this is vague and long-winded, but I hope you will get some sense of what I mean from it.

            Why is selflessness so important here? Partly because helping other people is an important way in which we can flourish. But more fundamentally, I would say it is because thinking of yourself is a distraction which interferes with human flourishing.

      • David Nickol

        Children help fix this. As any parent knows they demand a Copernican revolution of the soul.

        I wonder if this isn't a very modern view. Until quite recently, particularly in agrarian societies, children did significant labor. There is still significant resistance to regulating child labor in agriculture. From April of last year:

        Facing political pressure from Republicans and farming groups, the White House has decided to scrap rules proposed last year that would have prevented minors from performing certain agricultural work deemed too dangerous for children.

        This even though "family farms were actually exempted from the proposed rules."

        Our conception of childhood is actually quite modern. The idea that you had children, fussed over them, got them a good education, drove them to soccer practice, and so on, until they were 18 or possibly 21 is maybe about 200 years old. Children worked very hard in agrarian societies, and with the advent of the industrial revolution, children worked in factories.

        And of course a primary reason people had children in the past was because fertility control was so poorly understood and developed until the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, in many ways, it still is!

        So in many ways, I think Fr. Barron is pining for the 1950s rather than giving any deep insight into human nature.

        • David, I appreciate the thoughtful comment, but it doesn't seem you engaged points. Of course, we agree that agrarian families benefited from having large families. I don't see how this relates to my claim that, "Children help fix [selfishness]. As any parent knows they demand a Copernican revolution of the soul."

          All parents understand that raising a child requires far more labor than what any child could offer in return. This is why children ultimately require, and engender, selflessness.

          • AshleyWB

            "Children help fix [selfishness]."

            Do you have any evidence to support this claim? I can personally cite many counter-examples of grotesquely selfish parents whose children are the primary means through which their self-absorption is expressed.

          • "Do you have any evidence to support this claim?"

            History offers an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence and, in at least one extremely persuasive case, direct personal evidence--my own.

            But consider this question logically. Having a child (or more) simply demands so much of a parent. One moment your life is about you (and perhaps a spouse), but the next moment your life is subsumed by another.

            You're not free to do what you want, when you want, where you want; you can't travel on a whim; your food, house, work, and schedule all depend on your children.

            All of this has the effect of making you less self-focused. And it's not credit to you: it's the child that brings it about. This is what I've seen in my experience with four kids.

            Our of curiosity, do you have children Ashley?

            "I can personally cite many counter-examples of grotesquely selfish parents whose children are the primary means through which their self-absorption is expressed."

            Of course there are always exceptions to the rule. But this doesn't invalidate the rule. In my experience, parents overwhelmingly become more selfless upon having children.

          • AshleyWB

            "History offers an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence"

            Such as?

            "In my experience, parents overwhelmingly become more selfless upon having children."

            Relying on your experience to make sweeping claims about other people is a foolish approach. I'm sure you're aware of the variety of cognitive weaknesses which impede rational thought in human beings. You have those weaknesses. I have them. Everyone has them. Selection and confirmation biases alone render our off-the-cuff judgements about something as culturally charged as raising children highly suspect.

            I am willing to make one comment with confidence: parents who run around confidently telling people that non-parents are selfish are vulgar and self-absorbed.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I haven't read anyone write that "non-parents are selfish"?

          • Ashley, you never answered my question above: do you have children? Have you ever experienced the shift between not having children and then having some?

            I'd be curious to hear from some parents who claim that having kids actually made them *more* selfish, as you seem to be arguing. I've never met a parent like this.

            Also, you never responded to the philosophical case I made about how raising children makes you necessarily more selfless.

            "I am willing to make one comment with confidence: parents who run around confidently telling people that non-parents are selfish are vulgar and self-absorbed."

            Assuming you don't have any evidence to support such a claim--outside of anecdotal evidence, which you categorically reject--I'm curious what gives you such confidence.

          • Rachael Lefler

            "I'd be curious to hear from some parents who claim that having kids actually made them *more* selfish," yeah as if someone is going to admit that to someone's face of its true. Finding the real truth would take anonymous surveys, not a chat with a family member or friend. There are tons of counter examples. What about pageant moms? What about how the most likely suspect in any given child murder is the child's own mother? What about virtue-signaling moms who gloat about what they don't feed their children just to get accolades for themselves on the Internet or in groups of other moms? There are probably more and more selfish parents every year, and you could argue that it's very narcissistic to want to breed and create a little genetic replica of yourself + your partner, instead of adopting one of the many needy children already here.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This has certainly been my experience from before I had children and after. I know dozens of men who say the same.

            However, having children can only fix selfishness if you get with the program.

            But you are right that people can have children for perfectly selfish reasons.

          • David Nickol

            All parents understand that raising a child requires far more labor than
            what any child could offer in return. This is why children ultimately
            require, and engender, selflessness.

            In my previous message I was trying to convey my opinion that what you present as an eternal truth is a very modern concept. I think what you have said in the two sentence that I quote is basically not true for most of human history. We have a current notion that parents are for children. I think it was much more the case in the past that children were for parents (or they were just the natural consequence of getting married). This is still true in many parts of the world today.

            Today, throughout the world, around 215 million children work, many full-time. They do not go to school and have little or no time to play. Many do not receive proper nutrition or care. They are denied the chance to be children. More than half of them are exposed to the worst forms of child labour such as work in hazardous environments, slavery, or other forms of forced labour, illicit activities including drug trafficking and prostitution, as well as involvement in armed conflict.

            Also, in many parts of the world, girl children are given away in marriage at very young ages, sometimes even before puberty. What Fr. Barron is talking about here pertains largely to middle and upper-middle-class families in developed countries in the 20th and 21st centuries. It seems to me in Biblical times a very strong emphasis was put on children being obedient to their parents, not on parents providing for their children and becoming unselfish as a result.

            We live in very unique times for children and teens here in the developed countries compared to the rest of human history.

  • 42Oolon

    Dropping fertility rates is a global phenomena and in fact the United States is seen as an anomaly in the global north as having the highest and one that is above replacement rates, but they are dropping world wide.

    Of course Father B would agree there are excellent reasons for both men and women to devote themselves to a child-free earthly existence. He seems concerned that these people are somehow being selfish. I disagree I applaud that people are making conscious decisions about this issue and not simply bowing to societal or religious pressure.

    The last thing we want is people who do not want kids to feel pressured into having them for any reason.

    • "In fact the United States is seen as an anomaly in the global north as having the highest [fertility rate] and one that is above replacement rates, but they are dropping world wide."

      This is not true. As CNN reported last week, "U.S. births have been below replacement level since 2007."

      "The last thing we want is people who do not want kids to feel pressured into having them for any reason."

      That's the last thing we want? Are you suggesting we'd rather have a society that shrinks into near non-existence? Or one that's so top heavy because few children exist to support the longer-living elderly?

      • 42Oolon

        I see, well that is news to me. Still a relative anomaly in the global north.

        I am not suggesting anything. Fertility rates are essentially impossible to manage anyway But yes, I would rather a society that shrinks into near non-existence, or one that's top heavy; compared to a growing (just as bad) or even stable rate, but where people are pressured or forced to have kids they don't want.

        • "Fertility rates are essentially impossible to manage anyway"

          I disagree. But legalizing abortion and subsidizing contraception, the government has dramatically contributed to reduced fertility rates. It's a form of demographic suicide.

          "But yes, I would rather a society that shrinks into near non-existence, or one that's top heavy; compared to a growing (just as bad) or even stable rate, but where people are pressured or forced to have kids they don't want."

          I should have been more clear. Of course, I agree with you that no couple should feel pressured into having children they don't want.

          However, if nothing else, humans have a responsibility to support and perpetuate our species. Thus from a societal perspective, it's inherently selfish to expect society to support you while not contributing to its reproduction.

          • josh

            Brandon, a 'form of demographic suicide' sounds a bit like a racist or nationalist dog-whistle, although you may not have meant it as such. My understanding is that the US birthrate is slightly below replacement but this is more than offset by immigration. Hence one sometimes runs into right-wing fears that hispanics, or muslims, or whomever are going to outbreed the 'right sort' of people.

            Anyhow, I don't think that 'if nothing else' everyone is obliged to propagate the species, any more than I think it's my duty to keep the white race strong. (I'm not imputing the latter view to you.) For one thing, neither is actually going to disappear on a foreseeable timescale. But my 'duty' to society is to participate as a reasonable member who upholds the rules of civilized interaction, and hopefully as one who actually cooperates for some mutual good. This doesn't entail actively trying to breed future members of a future society. In reality, the childless are generally subsidizing the children of others. Which is fine within reasonable limits, but having children is far from selfless.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In reality, the childless are generally subsidizing the children of others. Which is fine within reasonable limits, but having children is far from selfless.

            Go thirty years into the future and that situation is reversed.

          • "Brandon, a 'form of demographic suicide' sounds a bit like a racist or nationalist dog-whistle, although you may not have meant it as such."

            I'm not sure what why such a comment would associate me with racists but I don't appreciate the suggestion.

            By "demographic suicide"--a term that many atheist demographers employ--I'm simply referring to the statistical fact that the Western World, and educated secularists in particular, are slowly causing their own demise.

            According to experts, within the next fifteen years, the global fertility rate will fall to the replacement level. After that, we'll begin sinking down in the wrong direction.

            No species has ever consciously determined not to reproduce itself. This is demographic suicide.

            "Hence one sometimes runs into right-wing fears that hispanics, or muslims, or whomever are going to outbreed the 'right sort' of people."

            In good faith, I'll assume you aren't attributing such despicably racist remarks to me. I've never suggested anything like this and the idea offends me just as much as it does you.

            (However, we should point out that this particular idea is behind many streams of the "throw-condoms-at-Africa" campaign. Some American proponents of this strategy operate out of a "too many of you, just enough of me" paradigm, the same paradigm that inspired earlier advocates of contraception like Planned Parenthood founder, racist, and eugenicist, Margaret Sanger.)

            "Anyhow, I don't think that 'if nothing else' everyone is obliged to propagate the species, any more than I think it's my duty to keep the white race strong."

            You make a strong point here, assuming that atheism is true (as you believe, if I remember correctly.) Without God, there are no moral obligations so I can see why when speaking to atheists my appeal would fall on deaf ears.

            Christians naturally regard ourselves as "our brother's keeper." We feel morally obligated to care for the whole society, present and future. That's why propagating the human race--an extension of God's command to "be fruitful and multiply"--is incumbent on us.

            I suppose an atheist, on the other hand, has no good reason to care about the future of society after his death, whether it flourishes or collapses, grows or shrinks.

            "having children is far from selfless."

            Do you really believe it's far from selfless? If we assume there's a spectrum with "selfless" on one side and "selfish" on the opposite end, this would suggest having children is necessarily close to "selfish".

            If you're truly arguing that having children is selfish, then please defend this surprising view. If not, then I apologize for misunderstanding you.

          • josh

            Since I went out of my way to say twice that I'm not attributing racist motives to you, you don't need to ask for a third assurance. I was pointing out that your rhetoric here bears a similarity to that of those who do have racist motives so you might want to think about your phrasing a little. You also might want to think twice about accusing people who support birth control measures of racism without a jot of evidence. Sanger didn't have modern views on race, along with essentially everyone alive in the 1920s. However, she was relatively progressive for her time, working with the black community and receiving praise from W.E.B. DuBois and later MLK. But regardless, the flaws of someone dead for 50 years don't have much to do with modern attitudes.

            The problem with "demographic suicide" is twofold. The suicide part is like arguing that losing weight and starving to death are the same thing. The population can go down without entering some sort of death spiral. There are difficulties to be adapted to with a decreasing population just as there are with one which is growing, but there is no reasonable worry that the species is going to disappear. The demographic part is also wrong. I'm not sure exactly what demographic you had in mind, but above you mention "educated secularists". Well, educated secularists don't just come from educated secularist parents. (Who, it should be said, are hardly all childless loners.) We know that the percentage of people who check 'none' in religious surveys has been increasing, at least in the 'West'. My goal is to educate and secularize people, not to outbreed some horde of 'others'.

            I am an atheist, but one needn't share my entire ethical framework (other atheists don't) in order to argue that population growth isn't some sort of imperative. It's entirely orthogonal to caring for people or even for society at large. I care for existing people, and I care for the well-being of future people who I expect will exist after I die. But there is no connection to making more people 'just because'. Someone with 5 kids doesn't care about people more than someone with only 1, and the same is true for people without children.

            Like many things, having kids is a mixture of selfish reasons and non-selfish involvement with other people. It's not something that has to be close to one 'side' or the other. People with kids are often heavily invested in those kids and devoted to them, but a lot of it is because it istheir offspring. The kids function in part as an extension of themselves, carrying on the family name, providing vicarious pleasures, taking care of you in your old age, etc. (And keep in mind the relatively modern notion of extreme devotion to your children discussed elsewhere on this thread.) It would clearly be more unselfish to not have kids but devote yourself to the well-being of complete strangers who could never benefit you. In fact we often find that people with kids care about those kids to the exclusion and detriment of other people. So my point isn't to argue that having children is more selfish than any other way of living, it just isn't remarkably less, as the article seems to imply.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            A lot of ugly and inflammatory language in there, Josh.

          • josh

            I was arguing against ugly and inflammatory language.

          • (Previously 42Oolon) Well I listened to an entire Yale series of lectures on population studies and that professor was unequivocal that causation has not been established by any factor. Rather,the decline in Europe began decades before abortion was legalized and contraception was readily available. It seems to have begun in the nineteenth century. Time lags are huge. But I am going from memory.

            I do not agree that there is a responsibility to perpetuate the species, but I do agree that personally I would like to live in a world with stable fertility rates and that is all I would say to anyone considering having or not having kids.

            A growing fertility rates are just as bad as a declining one. Just like I do not consider people with one or no kids selfish, I do not think people with more than three are either.

  • 42Oolon

    Yes, the OT says be fruitful and multiply, it also calls children weapons in the hands of their father. It would be shameful to have children to keep one's "quiver full". Psalm 127.

    • 42Oolon, I'm not sure I catch your point regarding Psalm 127, which Christians have always interpreted as a poetic commendation of children. Perhaps you can elaborate?

      • 42Oolon

        Google the "Quiverfull movement". Or even better "No Longer Quivering". Careful when you say "always interpreted" and/or beware the no true Scotsman fallacy.

        Yes, this is a fringe fundy movement, but it is real, and many adherents certainly think the Bible requires women to keep having babies no matter how dangerous to their health or how poor it makes them.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          My kids might come in handy when Social Security goes belly up.

          • 42Oolon

            Handy for what? and is that why you had them? Are you being sarcastic? You realize this psalm calls children arrows in the hand of a father. Interpret it all you want but the author clearly chose a weapon as the metaphor. He could have chosen gold or music, he didn't, he chose something that was used for killing.

          • ziad

            Weapons do not necessarily mean aggression. It could be used for self defense. It could symbolize power also. I am from the middle east, and in our culture, sons are seen as the power of the family and its protection.

          • 42Oolon

            Are these good reasons to have kids to increase your power?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I wasn't being sarcastic. I was being witty.

            Before the modern welfare state, families took care of their younger and older members. When the Ponzi scheme of Social Security collapses, and I'm old and decrepit, maybe my kids will do the right thing and care for me.

            But my wife and I didn't have our children for our sakes but for theirs. We wanted them to exist.

          • Linda

            They are "like arrows in the hand of a warrior." They are his strength, his protection, his defense in times of trouble.

        • I was referring to your quote from Psalm 127, that children are "weapons in the hands of their father" (the actual Biblical phrase is "arrows in the hand of a warrior"). I just wanted to clarify that this is figurative language meant to praise the gift of children. I'm not clear on why you would disagree (if you even do.)

          Still, I don't understand what your original comment was trying to drive at. Were you trying to say that the Bible demands Christians have as many children as physically possible, regardless of circumstances?

          • bobby

            This is what I absolutely dispise about those who believe in god and follow the bible. This quote can be considered figuratively via your interpretation, but so many others (of course, and again by your choosing) must be taken figuratively.

          • ziad

            Bobby, in which other way can you understand this passage differently?! It is not physically possible to shoot your sons as arrows on a bow.
            I am from the middle east and I can assure that this is nothing out of the ordinary. Sons are seen as the strength of the family that will protect the family from harm

          • 42Oolon

            No, but they can be your own private army armed with swords slings and arrows. The author could have used any metaphor, he chose to compare children to weapons in the hand of a warrior. There may be nothing out of the ordinary about having your wife risk death to spawn your private security force in your community but where I live that is seen as morally repugnant. I bet you do too. I bet that is not why you had kids but is part of the benefit you get from your kids. I'd bet you value your kids based on love, not their defensive capability, but feel safe and with them around. I would hope that if all of the sons wanted to move overseas to follow their dreams, you would not deny them this because you had them to protect you.

            I bet you are a loving caring persons, but this psalm is despicable. It comes from a time when people did not see their kids this way, in a book where youths are slaughtered for teasing a bald man and when a man offers his daughter as a sacrifice to let him win a war, god accepts it.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Bobby, every work in writing has to be interpreted. Even something written to be as clear as glass, like the U.S. Constitution, has to be interpreted. Hope you don't also dispise the Constitution and those who follow it.

          • (formerly 42Oolon) The US constitution doesn't describe children as arrows in the hand of a warrior, if it did, I would despise it. I do despise your right to bear arms. I love your free speech.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Brian,
            I think you are misinterpreting the arrows in the quiver analogy, but others have already argued a better interpretation above so I'll let it lie.

            This is only my opinion, but I'd say what ultimately guarantees freedom of speech (which you love) is the right to bear arms (which you loathe). If tyrants try to crush freedom of speech, an armed population can overthrow them.

          • Actually no one has explained why the author of psalm 127 would chose "arrows", "quiver" and "warrior" for his metaphor unless he was trying to make some kind of connection to, well, weapons.

            Goodness, why is this so hard to accept? The old testament includes the penalty of stoning children to death for being disobedient. It has bears rip youths apart for teasing a man. It has god ordering the killing of babies. But I am probably reading that out of context too.

          • 42Oolon

            This passage is the express justification for the Quiverfull movement which interprets it just that way, despite your impression that Christians have never interpreted it that way.

            I think this passage is directly encouraging people to have many children not for some spiritual abstract plan for god but for earthly consequences of power or defence.

            I think these are bad reasons to have kids.

  • Marianne

    Thanks Father Barron I really do enjoy your videos and articles and look forward to watching your Catholicism series. I don't feel called by God to be a mother... After years of prayer and consideration I don't believe it is my calling and that it is too important an undertaking to go into lightly. I consider myself a second mother to my many nieces and nephews and try to be involved in giving back to my community although often fall short. Surely there is room for a wider definition of the Childfree Life? I don't believe that being childless means I should be limited to being single. I will reread your article over the next few days and try to understand it more. Thanks again for making your discussions so freely available.

  • picklefactory

    Wow, did I come here to have a priest conclude that I likely am selfish, cry 'victim', and never "move outside the ambit of [my] private desire" by generalizing from an article in a terrible magazine, and then describe my life as 'very sad'?

    I have a suggestion: why not ask some folks who haven't had any children why they haven't, or perhaps peruse some sociological studies or surveys about why they say they haven't, rather than reason backwards from a conclusion in the usual way?

    • "I have a suggestion: why not ask some folks who haven't had any children why they haven't, or perhaps peruse some sociological studies or surveys about why they say they haven't, rather than reason backwards from a conclusion in the usual way?"

      Picklefactory, thanks for the comment. In the future, please include your name, per our Commenting Policy, either as a signature or by using a different Disqus account.

      Regarding your comment, I'm not sure if you actually read the article or just reasoned backwards from your own conclusion (as your accuse Fr. Barron of doing.) Throughout the article he does exactly what you demand, quoting and engaging couples who chose not have children.

  • Randy Gritter

    This is kind of a secondary issue. It is like complaining that atheism has led to fewer priests. Of course it would but that is hardly a reason to reject atheism. Catholicism does lead to more children but the way in which it does it quite a bit more complex than most imagine. Many feel like Catholics are simply forced into it. They are not allowed to use artificial contraceptives so they end up with a ton of children. It is not that simple. Catholics can and do control their family size. There are some methods they are not allowed to use but other that they are allowed work well.

    So why do Catholic have more children? Because God loves children and God loves sex. He calls us to love children and love sex. But He calls us to do so in a very personal and intimate way. Through our love of our spouse. Through our acceptance of sex and marriage as a complete gift of self. Through our understanding of God as Father. Through our trust in Him to give us good gifts and provide us what we need to not only survive but be joyful.

    It involves many complex spiritual dynamics that are hard to explain to atheists. Atheists tend to always go back the the assumption that what is really happening is we can't control ourselves and so we rationalize the rest of it. It is a bit frustrating.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      My wife and I had kids because we wanted to and we wanted them to exist. We think a new eternal person is a great idea.

      Sure it requires some sacrifice. Sometimes we look at them and say, there goes our vacation home; that one there is our trip to Paris; oh, there goes our stock portfolio.

  • Jake David MacLennan

    Like the world needs more children or something. Natalism for religions is about power not about freeing people from selfishness. One might just as well argue that having children is the selfish act of perpetuating your DNA.

    • I wanted children for the selfish reason that children would make me less selfish, and therefore happier.

      • Jake David MacLennan

        Oh, really? So how many did you adopt? Because if you didn't, I think you have to admit there is a selfish motive to reproduction.

        • Did you actually read what I wrote? It's only one sentence.

          I had children for the selfish reason that children would make me less selfish, and therefore happier. I decided to have children for the sake of my own happiness.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            Right, so I take it you are conceding that having children is in some respects a selfish act. But I don't think you are really appreciating the full gravity of the selfishness, judging by your response.

          • Please enlighten me.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            By having children you are exposing them to risk. Life is uncertain business. They will in all likelihood experience profound tragedy and pain. Inevitably they will die. By producing children that need not have existed to satisfy your selfish need to reform your selfish tendencies you share the responsibility for all that befalls them.

          • The majority of people that I know (myself included) would rather live than not.

            If my kids come back to me and tell me that they wish I had never had them, I'll make sure to give them a very sincere apology and buy them a quality ale or two to make up for it.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            My point is — it is an act of profound significance, and I'll bet you'd agree.
            Cheers.

          • I agree entirely. Thanks.

          • Guest

            "The majority of people that I know (myself included) would rather live than not.."

            Doesn't surprise me at all since it's a standard practice of all pronatalists to indoctrinate people to believe that it is when the facts speak otherwise.

          • Is this a joke? If it is, I didn't quite catch the punchline. Something about pronatalists making people happy to be alive?

          • Ashley Johnson

            Even if the majority are happy to exist, there a lot who are not. You are gambling with the well being of another person who didn't ask for it. There are no guarantees your kid will be happy or healthy. Procreation is an entirely selfish act.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            If there's good odds an act will increase another's happiness, then performing that act would seem almost by definition to be not entirely selfish.

            But even if we imagine it were entirely selfish. So what?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You have encountered insanity.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            lol Something like moral insanity. First, I don't know why I should worry much about the motivations of someone who doesn't exist. I'm not sure if that makes sense by itself (strange ethical problems arise from these sorts of worries). Second, simply saying that it's selfish to bring someone into the world because they might possibly be disappointed would seem to imply that we should not save dying people who may or may not have tried to kill themselves, because there's a chance that they will resent being saved.

          • Ashley Johnson

            Procreation doesn't increase another's happiness. It creates a need for happiness with no guaranteed means of satisfying that need. If you want to increase another's happiness, do so for the people already here who have the need for it. Your kid was neutral before you forced this existence on him. It irks me when parents pretend they had kids for the sake of their kid. You are inflicting an uncertain environment on a sentient being who didn't ask for it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with having kids, but don't pretend you had them for anyone but yourself. The fact there is no guarantee life won't harm your kid means you were willing to sacrifice your kid's desires to satisfy your own. It's a big screw you to all the kids who truly suffer.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Procreation increased my child's happiness from zero to (so far) some average positive value. That may change later in life, hopefully not, but most people when asked say that they'd prefer to have been born. So odds are, my kids will as well. It's playing the odds. Doing something that will likely bring about a preferred result for someone else seems to me pretty close to the definition of an unselfish act.

            Also, I'm unconvinced that non-existence is a neutral state, because I don't think you can predicate onto non-existent entities. I don't think, for example, that my trillion trillion trillion potential children (depending on which day my wife and I might conceive), have a neutral state, or anything at all, because they don't exist. They don't have a state whatsoever. If they did, if there was some ethical calculus to be performed for them, which of those trillion trillion trillion potential children do I choose? Probably not any that will actually exist, so the calculus would be moot.

            Further, the question isn't whether it is neutral full stop, but whether existence is preferred over non-existence on average (either averaging in some ideal space over the uncountable trillions of possible people, or better, averaging over the people who do exist, although they may be biased ;) ). Most people prefer to exist. Very few, even in countries where people are starving to death, would prefer never to have been born (happiness polls are very interesting in this regard; people in very poor countries tend to perform above average on happiness polls).

            Continuing on, I wouldn't say that I had children for the sake of my children, not entirely. But not entirely for my own sake, either. However, imagining that I did do it solely for my own sake, so what? I'm not sacrificing any desires, because no non-existent entities can have desires. Even if my kids turn out to desire not to have been born, they can thank me and my wife for that desire. After all, if it weren't for us, they would never have had that desire (or any other) in the first place. You can't sacrifice what you don't got.

            I personally cannot really understand the idea that non-existence would be preferable to existence. But imagining that this is the case for my children, assuming there's no afterlife, I have not deprived them of much. They'll be non-existent soon enough anyway. They just need to be patient.

          • Ashley Johnson

            Your child's birth didn't increase her happiness. She found the happiness she was forced to find. As I said, all procreation did is create the need. Good for her but many don't. I'm one person who would have preferred to never be born. My life overall has been hell and there are millions like me. That's not even including suicides. Just because you can't comprehend it, doesn't make it so. I don't thank my parents for forcing this existence onto me. Quite the contrary. They were horrible people who should have been sterilized. My well being was sacrificed so horny people could satisfy their incredibly selfish desires. All birth guarantees for your kid is a death sentence and taxes. Even if the odds are .0001% that a kid would choose not to be born, it is still gambling with the well being of another person who didn't have a say. I wouldn't even risk those odds that my kid would have to survive the existence i had to. To portray procreation as anything other than selfish is dishonest. If you want to be selfless, adopt.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            Your child's birth didn't increase [his] happiness.

            I did better than that. I made his happiness possible. I also made his misery possible, but most people, in the balance, would rather have existed than not.

            I'm one person who would have preferred to never be born.

            I am sad to hear that, but I respect your decisions and your self-identity. No one is better qualified to determine what your life is actually like than you (well, maybe God, but that's a different story, and anyway, I'm not Her).

            I hope you realize that you are in the minority. The vast majority of people are pleased to be alive. Many so enjoy life that they look for ways to extend it. Some, such as the H+ croud, seek ways to extend their life indefinitely. This is the much more likely extreme.

            By having children, I likely brought about a state someone would rather be in than the alternative. Admittedly, there's a risk that my children will have preferred not to have been born.

            Even if the odds are .0001% that a kid would choose not to be born, it is still gambling with the well being of another person who didn't have a say.

            Of course. Any decision I make for anyone involves some gambling. Do I fly back to see my mother? Well, the plane might crash killing my entire family and making my mother miserable. There's a small chance that vaccines will kill my children. I still give them the vaccines. I might try to feed people who are starving. Maybe they greatly dislike the kind of food I got. None of this seems especially selfish. It just seems slightly risky.

            Is the risk worth the reward? I think obviously so. You may disagree. Even if you were right, that wouldn't make my decision selfish. It would just make my decision a bad bet.

            If you want to be selfless, adopt.

            Adoption is indeed a very good thing to do.

            To conclude, I don't think having kids is entirely selfish. But there's one question I've asked several times that you haven't answered. Even if having kids was completely selfish, so what?

          • Ashley Johnson

            So what is that you affect another person with your selfishness, regardless of how the small the odds... Besides I'm willing to bet the odds that people would have preferred to skip existence are higher than you are anticipating. A person kills themselves every 20 minutes and millions more simply endure life. Even if I am a minority, Pain outweighs pleasure. 1 girl shouldn't have to endure rape and abuse so 1 million can experience happiness. Her suffering shouldn't be dismissed just because she's in the minority. You don't have an obligation to bring someone joy. You do have an obligation to not inflict harm. Life is guaranteed to bring some extent of suffering, so you knowingly inflict it on your kid. Your examples aren't comparable, especially since the victims could consent.

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            I've really enjoyed our conversation, and that's why I've gone a bit overboard with the answers. I think you are wrong, but that's so much better than many recent conversations I've had here with certain people, who use a vocabulary full of esoteric technical terminology, and who I suspect at the end of the day are using many words to say nothing at all. An intelligent interlocutor who is understandable and disagreeable is the ideal conversation partner. Thanks for taking the time to make me think about this (even if I think it is a bit nuts).

            It seems as though you agree with my assertion that having children isn't entirely selfish. It may be wrongheaded and mostly selfish, but it can't be entirely selfish, otherwise your comparisons about weighing pain and pleasure would not even get off the ground (why would an entirely selfish actor concern himself or herself with the plight of one girl?). Is this the case, or have I misread you?

            Even if I am a minority, Pain outweighs pleasure.

            Does it? If so, then I should be living barely above poverty, giving my money to the poor, so that my lack of pleasure can be leveraged to reduce their pain. It would in fact be entirely selfish of me to have a higher quality of life. Yet I don't think it is entirely wrong for me to be selfish in this way. Compared to the average person in the world, my family and I are quite wealthy, and I find no moral compunction to give that up.

            You don't have an obligation to bring someone joy. You do have an obligation to not inflict harm.

            First, I question this ethical maxim. Why is this the case? Why not the obligation to bring about joy? Why only the obligation to do no harm? If I saw someone starving on the street, and could easily help them, and don't, this seems immoral. But if I do nothing, then I have personally inflicted no harm upon them. So this seems entirely against my moral intuitions.

            Second, there's that matter of vaccines or other medical procedures. Vaccines cause pain. Do I have an obligation to forego vaccines, because I would be inflicting harm? Or is the good that results from the harm ever justified? How would doctors even function in this sort of world?

            Third, there's an issue with this situation about my causal role. Even if there were some sort of obligation to do no harm, full stop, then bringing people into the world is perfectly fine. It involves no harm. The harm comes later. Simply because my actions end up indirectly causing harm doesn't seem to carry any moral responsibility. Otherwise, I would have to avoid having children, because maybe my child will be the next Hitler, but at the same time have as many children as I possibly can, because maybe one of them will cure cancer. Indirect moral responsibility without some clear boundaries is not only absurd, but it's pathological.

            Fourth, we aren't talking about purposefully or knowingly inflicting harm, but possibly inflicting some unintended harm. So the example of one person being turtured for the sake of the many isn't an apt analogy at all.

            Finally, consent seems entirely irrelevant here, since I never seek the consent of people who don't exist in any other instance.

            That's it for the examination into the question of selfishness, but there's still the unanswered question: Even if this were (now) mostly selfish, so what?

            You say I have an obligation. An obligation to whom? Why? What will be the consequences to me if I fail in this obligation? Where does your selfless ethics get its teeth? Why should I pay any attention to it at all?

          • Ashley Johnson

            You have an obligation to everybody not to inflict harm on them. Especially without their consent. If I choose to give gifts to a million people knowing that 1 person will be harmed from my action, I forego it. As I said you don't have an obligation to those million to make them happy. You have an obligation to the one not to hurt them. There's no consent, she didn't ask for it. You knew that by helping 1 million people, that one person would be harmed. It's intentional infliction of harm to satisfy your own desire. That's why I lean towards procreation being selfish and wrong. It's not unintended harm and it's not indirect. life is guaranteed suffering and you knowingly inflict it on another to satisfy your own desires. At the very least everybody has to experience death. Most don't have kids so others can experience the joys of life. They have kids because they want them, and they have them regardless of how much damage it could do to the kid. You don't have an obligation to feed the starving.The obligation lies on the parents not to inflict poverty on the kid. you don't have an obligation to relieve suffering. You have an obligation to not inflict it. If I force someone to use a gift I give them and they get hurt, I am responsible for them getting hurt. The issue has everything to do with consent,

          • Paul Brandon Rimmer

            What do you do with the vaccines case? Imagine I adopt (so we can avoid the having children problem for a second). The kid I've adopted is 6 months old. Incapable of consent. Doctors recommend that I get the kid vaccines. This will be of great benefit to the child, they claim. But it will cause the child pain. And the child can't consent. What should I do?

            Another example, maybe I am a doctor. A stranger comes in from the street. No information about him. He's dying! A procedure could save his life but leave him paralysed. I can't get his consent, because it turns out he can't communicate. What should I do?

            When you talk about consent, when it can be made available, I think that gets closer to a moral maxim I'd agree with. I think we are close to agreeing there. It's close to Kant's maxim (and therefore closer to my own ethical maxim) that we shouldn't treat people only as means to an end, but also as ends unto themselves.

            Sometimes consent isn't available. I think there are some cases where causing someone pain, even considerable and permanent pain, without their consent, can be morally permissible, as in one of the examples above.

            One more thing, you've probably seen this, but just in case. My favourite defence of your position is David Benatar's Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. I think his view is also nuts, but he defends it well, and there's no question in my mind his contributions are good for philosophy. Philosophy is best if all views can be expressed, defended to the fullest, and debated in the open and in the clearest language possible. It's the best way for philosophers to banish bad thinking, and to make sure they aren't fooling themselves.

          • Ashley Johnson

            I wouldn't have inflicted the need for a vaccine on the kid. The vaccine is inflicted suffering to prevent the possibility of disease that shouldn't have been inflicted in the first place. Same with adoption. Same with the doctor. It was the mothers duty not to inflict the possibility of those circumstances happening. That is only possible with the prevention of life itself. A better analogy is if I force you to go to a party where most people have a blast but a few were guaranteed to get hurt. Then you get hurt and seek the doctor that leaves you paralyzed. The moral maxim is to keep you home from the party, not to relieve the pain after the damage is done. That is only possible with the prevention of life itself, both good and bad.

          • Lazarus

            I am so sorry to hear that, Ashley, and I hope that one day those scales tip and you become glad that you were born.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Natalism for religions is about power not about freeing people from selfishness.

      One of the most sweeping (and false) generalizations I've read in a long time.

      • Jake David MacLennan

        Oh, really? Then why do you think the Roman Catholic Church tolerates the death and suffering of millions of people in Africa in order to prevent the use of condoms?
        Why do you think Islam is so concerned about controlling women? Why do you think most religions are so concerned with controlling people's reproduction? Why does spirituality have anything to do with human sexuality? It's because it IS about controlling reproduction in order to increase their power.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          Natalism for religions is about power not about freeing people from selfishness.

          Jake, I think this is a sweeping and false generalization because there are all kinds of religions, most of them with long and complex histories, some of which with no central authority which could even be seeking power.

          If a religion is concerned about human sexual behavior it could be that that religion sees human sexuality as having a moral dimension. For example, if a religion condemns rape, it might do so because rape is wrong and bad for the rapist, the victim, and others, not because condemning rape gains that religion some power over people.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            I defined which ones I was referring to.

            I'm talking about harmful religions.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            So, "Natalism for religions is *not* about power"?

            I am a Roman Catholic and I help teach marriage preparation classes for engaged couples. We teach a concept called "responsible parenthood" which puts the decision of how many children a couple should have in the hands of the couple and no one else.

            It seems a contradiction to say the Catholic Church is controlling reproduction for power by telling a couple it is their responsibility to decide how many children to have.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            Very progressive of you, but while you're working on that end Catholic site Fix the Family is spouting six reasons why fathers should discourage their daughters from going to university.

            'Alleman [spokesperson for the site] adds that daughters should “learn to be a wife and mother” instead of pursuing higher education.'

            You have to know that this is not an isolated atypical position.

          • Jake David MacLennan

            Belief systems have functions. If you wanted to make women baby factories to supply your future army with soldiers you couldn't do much better than the Abrahamic faiths have done.

            The texts and the understanding of those texts speak volumes.

            Rape is a separate issue, though I might mention the Mosaic codes went pretty lightly on rape, and encouraged the victim to marry her rapist. And in Islam the odds are stacked against victims.
            People's sexuality, providing they aren't exploiting and abusing someone is their own business. Where religions weigh in it has been to reafirm the woman's role as baby factory and the man role as head of the house.

  • Before I read it, I wondered if this was an autobiography. "Robert Barron: My very sad childfree life." That would have been a better-informed article.

    This article's a mirror image of the "housewife as a domestic slave" opinion. Both are equally uninformed and insulting.

    People should have as many children as they want, so long as they can care for them well. Are you the Duggar family and want 19 kids? Go for it. The family seems pretty happy to me, although I question the wisdom of being part of a reality TV show.

    My wife and I have decided that two children is good for us. We have friends who have decided on zero children.

    It is sad when a family has more children than they want, but the real tragedy is wanting children and not being able to have them. The Catholic Church enshrines this tragedy by their opposition of IVF.

    • Children are a gift, not a right. IVF is wrong for many reasons, but one of the things to be remembered is that no one has a "right" to be a mother or father. Rather, husbands and wives are to be open to receiving the *gift* of a child that makes them a mother or father.

      • What do you mean when you say that children are a gift? If you mean this literally, then you are clearly presenting well why maybe Christians of a particularly fundamentalist persuasion might oppose IVF, but these sorts of reasons will not carry much weight with anyone else.

        I don't think children are gifts or rights. They're people. We have the amazing ability to make more people, and some control over how many. How would we possibly consider possibly existing children in the equation? Who besides the parents should decide whether to have more children?

        • The theistic view is that *God* is the giver of the "gift" of children, a gift that parents do not merely lay claim to via something like IVF. One does not "take" a gift as though by right, which is my line of thinking in the above comment. One receives a gift that is given freely by God.
          Further, to assert the "people-ness" of children also gives an immediate disqualifier for IVF, a process in which only *some* of these "people" are safeguarded and carried to term, and others are discarded (killed).
          The Catholic approach is one of "responsible parenthood", in which decisions about having children involve husband, wife, and God. The couple prayerfully discerns just how generously and selflessly they are able to be open to and receive the gift and blessing of a new life as part of their family. It's not a one-time conversation, but rather a lived reality, a lifelong discernment....

          • The theistic view is that *God* is the giver of the "gift" of children, a gift that parents do not merely lay claim to via something like IVF.

            Most theists would agree with the first half, "God gives children as gifts." I think only fundamentalists would accept the idea that, if something is a gift from God, we shouldn't try to obtain it using science. Is health a gift from God? Should we never use medicine to try to obtain it?

            Regardless, the whole idea about God giving children to people seems unlikely to me.

            The Catholic approach is one of "responsible parenthood", in which decisions about having children involve husband, wife, and God.

            Remove God, and you have just the parents deciding how many children they'll have. I think the Catholic approach makes sense for Catholics. I don't think it makes much sense for non-Catholics, and certainly not for non-Christians.

            ... a process in which only *some* of these "people" are safeguarded and carried to term, and others are discarded (killed).

            I don't think it's people yet.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I don't think it's people yet.

            You might want to read Embryo: A Defense of Human Life (review here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/books/review/Saletan-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0).

            A human embryo is as much a human person as you and I are. In fact, we were just like that embryo when we were very young, just like that embryo will be just like us when it is a lot older.

          • Why aren't eggs and sperm people? Or why aren't the groups of atoms that will one day become an adult people already?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think eggs and sperm are not people for the similar reason that your left kidney is not a person. An egg in itself will never be anything but an egg, a sperm a sperm, and a kidney a kidney. But, while a kidney can never be anything but a kidney (unless genetic engineering can do something with it), a human sperm and human ovum when united can become a you. A fertilized ovum is totally different in kind from a sperm or egg.

          • Some eggs and some sperm join together and eventually become an adult.

            An embryo cannot be both an embryo and an adult, and an embryo by itself cannot become an adult (it needs a lot more material and organization). But some embryos will take on a bunch more organization and material will become adults, like some eggs and sperm will come together and become embryos.

            A fertilized ovum is totally different in kind from a sperm or egg.

            And a human child is completely different from a human embryo. Why think that an embryo is a person anymore than a sperm and egg?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Paul, I think the answer is right there when you use the word "eventually."

            Eventually has to come down to some definable moment but there is no such moment. There is a complete continuity from the moment of conception, through prenatal development, through birth and infancy, childhood, adolescent, adulthood and old age.

            I newborn baby also needs a bunch more organization and material to become an adult.

            If you are defining a person as a mature adult, we are all in deep trouble.

          • I think there's complete continuity of cause and effect from the moment of the big bang to me right now (and beyond). Somewhere along that line, I came into being. Catholics say it's when I was conceived. Buddhists say it was before. I currently think it's after. How can I tell who is right?

            I newborn baby also needs a bunch more organization and material to become an adult.

            Agreed.

            It comes down to two things. What's a person and how do we know?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I think the only way way to decide these questions in the public forum is by the power of reason. The Catholic faith claims the human person comes into being at the moment of conception as a judgment of reason, not as a revelation that is an object of faith.

            A human being is an individual human biological organism. Biology establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that human life begins at conception. The concept of person is nothing but a description of certain characteristics of the human being.

            The U.S. Supreme Court adopted the bogus argument that there is some difference between a human being and a human person to justify killing the unborn.

          • I like that this will be about reason. We can both go off of that basis. Before we go further, though, it might help to know the boundaries.

            Since reason based on experience (what we know about the embryo) is always fallible, what possible future discovery would convince you that you are wrong?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            What possible future discovery would convince you that you are wrong?

            I've never examined a question like this in this way before so I can only speculate.

            If human life begins at conception, which seems to me incontrovertible, in order for a human person to be something more than an individual with human life, something entirely new and observable would have to infuse that human life at some point.

            So, instead of a gradual and continual growth in the potentialities already inherent in the embryo, some third thing would have to be added from outside. If that thing adequately accounted for personhood (which we haven't defined yet), then I think I could be convinced that personhood begins after conception and can be lost after birth.

          • That's a great answer. I think it gets at what the New York Times review also was trying to address (showing that the mother gives even some genetic material to the embryo. The author's examples don't seem as radical as what you propose would change your mind, but it seems as though you and the author of that article could have a very good conversation about whether embryos are people.

            This does bring up a couple new questions for me. What do you think it means for something to be human life, is that different from an individual human life, and how can we tell? Also (I think you answered this but I want to be sure), do you think that all individual humans are people?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            You asked two questions and I'll try to answer them.

            What do you think it means for something to be human life, is that different from an individual human life, and how can we tell? Also (I think you answered this but I want to be sure), do you think that all individual humans are people?

            We haven't talked about personhood yet, but I think your questions will answer themselves if we make a substitute along these lines:

            What do you think it means for something to be a horse, is that
            different from an individual horse, and how can we tell? Also (I
            think you answered this but I want to be sure), do you think that all
            individual horses are horses?

            A horse is a horse from the moment of conception until its natural death. It develops, matures, and deteriorates, but it's always a horse.

            A human being is a human being from the moment of conception until its natural death. It develops, matures, and deteriorates, but its always a human being.

          • It looks like I played a terrible trick on you! I changed the last question with an edit, because I didn't want to talk about personhood yet, and hoped I did so before you began your reply. Sorry about that.

            I'm interested in the question: do you think that all human organisms have a right to life?

            About the other question, to clarify, what I'm asking is what is the difference between human life (like a bunch of my skin cells) and an individual human life? And how can we tell? If I show you a group of human cells, how can you tell if it's an individual human or just a bunch of human cells? Is it its origin, its future potential, or some property that it has at that time that determines for you whether the group of cells is human?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Do you think that all human organisms have a right to life?

            In a loose sense, one could say a harvested human kidney is a "human organism", but I hope we can agree that we are really talking about an individual of the human species. So the question is, "Does every human being have a right to life?"

            Self-defense and capital punishment issues aside, if the question is, "Does any human being have the right to deprive me of life?" I think the answer is no. The reason is that life is the most basic good for a human being, without which no other good is possible. A most basic ethical norm is, "Do no unnecessary harm and if you must do harm minimize it."

            What is the difference between human life (like a bunch of my skin cells) and an individual human life?

            The difference would be that the latter has a full human genome with either the potential to become actualized (like a zygote) or is already highly actualized (like an embryo), or even more highly actualized (like a child), and so on, while the former may be stuff from a human body but that is all it is.

          • The difference would be that the latter has a full human genome with either the potential to become actualized (like a zygote) or is already highly actualized (like an embryo), or even more highly actualized (like a child), and so on, while the former may be stuff from a human body but that is all it is.

            Why draw the line there? Why not before the egg and sperm meet? That egg and sperm have as much genetic information as the zygote (as far as I know), so why aren't they me too? It definitely has a potential to become actualized (it was). And so forth.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            This is a hard question to put into words.

            I think we draw the line at conception because the word "potential" means two different things before and after conception.

            The sperm cell and the ovum are individuals, which if they don't fuse, die in short order. If they fuse they become a new cell that begins an entirely new dynamic trajectory.

            If you could actually could follow the sperm cell from its (very recent) creation and the ovum from its (much earlier) creation, all you could say is, that's the sperm cell that actually became me and that's the ovum that became me. At conceptions you could say, that's me!

          • josh

            "...a human sperm and human ovum when united can become a you."

            No they can't. 'I' am a sperm and an ovum, plus a bunch of material from the mother while in utero, plus much more material from food outside the womb, plus years of experiences and environmental effects. 'I' am not a sperm plus an egg or vice versa. A fertilized egg isn't a person any more than a grain of sand is a pearl.

          • Or than a seed is an oak tree.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Just because the zygote developed into an embryo, and then a fetus, and then an infant, and then a child, and so on, does not mean it has changed its identity.

            Evidently the vast majority of our cells turn over constantly: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/02/science/02cell.html?pagewanted=all

            You are not what you've been eating for the last year. You are still Josh. So the material we take in doesn't change our basic identity.

          • josh

            "So the material we take in doesn't change our basic identity." But then, the material 'I' started out as, a fertilized egg, also doesn't define my 'basic identity'. So to start off let's dump the assumption that 'I' am some perfectly concrete and unchanging thing that came into existence at a discrete point in time. 'I' am more like a stable pattern in a physical medium, like an eddy in a stream. The me from one day to the next doesn't change too much because the pattern is very similar and related from one day to the next, even though the individual cells which constitute it are being switched in and out.

            But over time the pattern changes, I am a different thing than I was yesterday, but close enough that we think of 'me' as a continuous thing. However, that doesn't extend indefinitely. I can associate with my three year old self because that 3yo had thoughts and feelings and there is a continuous line from him to me, albeit I am vastly different. But the difference between even a 1yo and an embryo is so vast it makes no real sense to say they are the same person. The embryo doesn't have thoughts or feelings, there is no shared experience that relates it to me.

            By the same token, at some point the pattern that is my thoughts will collapse rather rapidly and the 'I' that is having this conversation will cease to exist. The eddy will fade and a new pattern will take its place. The body will persist for a bit but also decay at a slightly slower rate until it makes no sense to talk of a worm-sifted pile of dirt as a body. I am a temporary phenomenon, one without discrete beginning or end.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I read you comment three times, trying to get a handle on it. This seems to be the heart of it:

            Let's dump the assumption that 'I' am some perfectly concrete and unchanging thing that came into existence at a discrete point in time.

            I think we can dump the word "perfectly" as just a rhetorical intensifier. I'd also vote to dump "unchanging," because that is not being asserted.

            We have left, "I am some concrete thing that came into existence at a discrete point in time."

            I think that is pretty much true. Before your conception, you did not exist and at your conception, you did begin to exist, and that happened at a discrete point in time even though no one was observing it.

            So what about "concrete thing"? Well, unless you are a pure spirit, you are a concrete thing.

            Do you really not recognize yourself as far back as you remember, in a fundamental way the same person at three or four as you are today, despite all the physical changes and variety of experiences?

          • josh

            Well, I appreciate you reading it. The point is 'perfectly' and 'pretty much' are very different things. You want to say that although I am changing, there is something unchanged that is 'I', but also that that unchanging part of 'I' just popped into existence at conception for some reason. But it just isn't true based on everything we know, there is no discrete moment, even the 'moment' of fertilization is stretched out over time. A person is the result of a gradual process.

            So I recognize myself as related to the person I was long ago because of the continuous, gradual transformation from that person to the current me. But if you carry this back indefinitely it makes less and less sense to speak of the precursors of a person as a person, and it makes no sense to arbitrarily stop it at fertilization or any other point. I am related to a sperm and egg just before they meet in exactly the same way as I am related to them just after.

            The 'concrete' distinction isn't from spirit in this case, but from 'abstract'. Like most things, my idea of myself is an abstraction, it is how I describe things but it is an idea with fuzzy edges, it's not a fundamental category of reality. Think of building a house: a foundation isn't a house; a frame isn't a house; when the walls are up and the roof is on is it a house?, maybe but what about the wiring and plumbing?; when all the rooms are painted is it a house? We would probably call it one, but what if only one room is left unpainted, yes or no? Different people can answer the questions differently because 'house' is a category in our heads, not a fundamental distinction in reality. What is 'really' there is molecules in a particular arrangement, whether or not I call that arrangement a house depends on how my brain is firing today. This is perfectly useful in many situations where one house is like enough to another that I don't care about the differences, but at some point it wasn't a house and at some point it won't be, not because there is a distinct house/not-house cutoff but because there is a gradual change such that 'house' is no longer a useful description in some region of time. (Similarly, did the house begin when ground was first broken? when blue-prints were finalized? when a developer first decided to build something, or when he first was aware of conceiving to build something? we might pick one of these for convenience but it's not a fundamental statement about reality.)

            So, when am I a person, or when do I have rights, or when is something 'me'? There is no one correct answer to these questions; if we pick a dividing line that line is always arbitrary to some degree. Birth is a pretty convenient answer to pick, although you could argue for others. Conception, however, isn't, because the fertilized or implanted egg is still so far from what we normally call a person.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            I am related to a sperm and egg just before they meet in exactly the same way as I am related to them just after.

            I'd say this is not biologically correct. Before fertilization there were two genetically distinct living things. After fertilization there was only one living thing, now genetically distinct (though obviously related) to the first two.

            What is 'really' there is molecules in a particular arrangement.

            Even if materialism is completely true, I think your house/human-being analogy isn't adequate. A house *is* an arrangement of molecules according to the mind of the architect and work of the builder. But a human being is, from the moment of conception, a dynamic self-organizing being which "knows" what it is from its genome and goes about fulfilling its potentialities. And somehow, that living material body becomes capable of abstract knowledge and self-direction.

            So, when am I a person, or when do I have rights, or when is something 'me'?

            I would answer that if you do not know the answer, you must give the benefit of the doubt to the thing in danger so as to "do no deliberate harm." A hunter who sees bushes moving cannot fire into them when he doesn't know for sure what's in them. It might be a deer or it might be Elmer Fudd.

          • David Nickol

            A human embryo is as much a human person as you and I are. In fact, we were just like that embryo when we were very young, just like that embryo will be just like us when it is a lot older.

            Suppose a being we would all agree is a person arrives from a distant galaxy. How would that person know that you and I are human persons? Or suppose in the distant future, human astronauts (all adults) land on a planet with intelligent life that they instantly recognize as persons. How will the beings on that planet recognize human astronauts as persons? And if the only thing in the first scenario or the second that the aliens stumbled upon were, say, one-month-old human embryos, would the aliens say those embryos are persons?

            The next point is by now a cliche, but is an acorn an oak tree? Is an egg a chicken? Is a caterpillar a butterfly? Just because a hen's egg has the DNA of a chicken, that doesn't make it a chicken. Do vegetarians refuse to eat fertilized hen's eggs on the belief that a fertilized hen's egg is a chicken? Do fasting people who will eat no meat refrain from eating eggs that may be fertilized?

            Finally, I thought the Catholic belief was that what made a human person a human person was a spiritual soul. There is no official Catholic position on when the soul is infused in the body, but can it be said that if the soul is not infused until, say, the one-month anniversary of conception, that the embryo prior to that time is a human person? What does it mean to have a human person with no human soul? It would seem to be impossible.

            It seems to me the debate over whether a fertilized egg or an early embryo is a human person or not can never be resolved, because each side of the debate insists on its own definition of person.

            Have we discussed here the following scenario? There is a fire in a fertility clinic, and everyone escapes except one nurse, who is trapped and must be saved. She cries, "Help! I have three young children at home who need me. Save me!" You can save the mother, or you can save a canister with a hundred frozen embryos in it, but you cannot save both. You have said, "A human embryo is as much a human person as you and I are." Should you not, then, save the canister of a hundred frozen embryos rather than save one nurse?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            How would we know the aliens were persons and how would the aliens know we were persons?

            It would be because of the evidence that the other creatures possessed the faculties of reason and free will. Then we would conclude that the baby aliens and the aliens would conclude that baby humans were all persons too.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Is a fertilized egg a chicken?

            Wrong question. Better question: What is common to both a fertilized chicken egg and a twelve-week-old chicken?

            Answer: They are both individuals of the species Gallus gallus domesticus but at different stages of development.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Ensoulment

            That question is irrelevant to this discussion. We are discussing what can be known about the human being through reason.

          • David Nickol

            That question is irrelevant to this discussion. We are discussing what can be known about the human being through reason.

            But Catholics would say that human beings can't even have reason without a spiritual soul. The claim is that the soul is the only reason human beings can think in abstractions. I don't see how you can toss out the concept of the soul in a discussion of personhood. Reason tells Catholics that to be human, a spiritual soul is an absolute requirement.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            In my view, "ensoulment" or when a human being becomes a "person" is a bogus issue. It has been trotted out since the 1970s to deny the humanity of unborn, handicapped, or impaired human beings so they can be killed. That is monstrous.

            The potential of human beings to exercise reason and free will is part of the description of human nature. It's why we call human beings persons rather than just a particular species of animal. But you don't actually have to be exercising reason and free will to have human dignity. Otherwise we would cease to be human beings when we are asleep.

          • David Nickol

            It has been trotted out since the 1970s to deny the humanity of unborn,
            handicapped, or impaired human beings so they can be killed.

            I have participated in countless discussions on this and related topics, and I have never seen anyone argue that the unborn or the severely disabled do not have souls and consequently may be killed. How in the world would anyone claim to know whether a human being had a soul? I have seen many arguments that early in pregnancy, an embryo or fetus is not a person, but since the moment of ensoulment is not known, and is impossible to know, I don't see how the presence or absence of a soul could be used as a reason for or against abortion.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Person=reason and free will=soul.

            Pelosi and Biden have argued that abortion is okay because the embryo is not yet ensouled.

            (reference here: http://hotair.com/archives/2008/08/24/pelosi-lies-about-catholicism-and-abortion/comment-page-4/)

          • David Nickol

            In my view, "ensoulment" or when a human being becomes a "person" is a bogus issue.

            Shorter answer: In Catholic thought, ensoulment is the only reason we have human beings.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Each side of the debate insists on its own definition of person.

            That remains to be seen. We haven't even begun to discuss personhood.

          • Leila Miller

            Ah, the old "Fire in the clinic!" scenario. Asked and answered by Fr. Tad, the guy with a bigger brain and more science credentials than all of us here combined:

            http://www.madisoncatholicherald.org/bioethics/241-pacholczyk-column.html

            More on Fr. Tad:

            http://www.ncbcenter.org/page.aspx?pid=1205

          • David Nickol

            Asked and answered by Fr. Tad, the guy with a bigger brain and more science credentials than all of us here combined

            That is a rather extravagant claim!

            Fr. Pacholczyk says, "Yet it is clear that this argument fails to justify what it proposes. . . . We can see this by modifying the storyline slightly." Slightly! He changes the scenario from a choice to save either one life or 5000 (a newborn baby or 5000 frozen embryos) to a choice of a husband to save either his wife or their newly born triplets. There may be good reasons to criticize the conclusion many would draw from the original scenario, but simply making up a new scenario doesn't really address the point of the original.

          • Leila Miller

            You can compete with this, David?

            Fr. Tad Pacholczyk, Ph.D, earned a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale University, did post-doctoral work at Harvard, has four undergraduate degrees -- in molecular and cellular biology, chemistry, biochemistry and philosophy -- and has two degrees in advanced theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

            My hat's off to you! I don't come close to his credentials in science.

            As for the scenario, I think it addresses your question perfectly. He even upped the ante by making the smaller humans not embryos, but the man's own beloved children. That doubles down on the point, not dismisses it. None of our choices in the heat of the emotion of an imposing disaster imply a judgment on the innate value of any of the human beings involved. That's the point.

          • David Nickol

            My hat's off to you! I don't come close to his credentials in science.

            You said Fr. Pacholczyk had "a bigger brain and more science credentials than all of us here combined." Combined!

            You seem to be arguing that the correct answer to a question is the one given by the person with the largest number of degrees.

            He even upped the ante by making the smaller humans not embryos, but the man's own beloved children. That doubles down on the point, not dismisses it.

            This removes from the scenario the central point—the difference between an embryo and "postborn" baby or adult. It changes completely the criteria for making the decision, and it also changes the decision that might be made. One might imagine the wife, for example, imploring the husband to save the babies and let her be the one to die.

            The point of the original scenario is that no one is going choose to save a canister of frozen embryos instead of a living, breathing, self-aware human being. Imagine the headline: FIREFIGHTER RESCUES FROZEN EMBRYOS, LEAVES NEWBORN BABY TO DIE. (In my scenario, it was a nurse, not a newborn baby.)

            Just as an aside, I am not sure what the point is of having four undergraduate degrees!

          • Kevin Aldrich

            David, could you clarify your reasoning here? Are you saying a frozen embryo is not a human being or does not have a soul or dignity because someone would chose to rescue it second?

          • Leila Miller

            You said Fr. Pacholczyk had "a bigger brain and more science credentials than all of us here combined." Combined!

            Oh, forgive me! I didn't realize I was speaking to one who does not understand colloquialisms, idioms, etc. Sigh…

            Anyway, you can continue to say that the scenario does not apply. The majority of people get it (just like they get the statement at the top). Clearly, Fr. Tad is agreeing that folks will always go with the emotion and practicality of the moment and none of that says anything about the inherent worth of any of the human beings involved. Again, most will get his point. You clearly, cannot.

            By the way, you do know that thousands of human beings at the embryonic stage were rescued by firefighters during the Katrina disaster? Here's the story of the first boy born, that had been saved that day:

            http://newsok.com/embryo-saved-after-katrina-is-born/article/2994210

            As for wondering what the point is of having four undergraduate degrees: I dunno. Education? Is this really something to complain or gripe about? Wowza...

          • David Nickol

            Oh, forgive me! I didn't realize I was speaking to one who does not understand colloquialisms, idioms, etc. Sigh… . . . Again, most will get his point. You clearly, cannot. . . . Wowza...

            The customary (and perhaps too polite) characterization for the tone of your message is snarky. In the future, save yourself the time and trouble of replying to me in this manner, since you'll get no response from me except the one I am giving you here.

          • Leila Miller

            I stand by my responses.

            And saying, "Most will get his point" is not snarky, it's just true. Most understand the point Fr. Tad is making, as it has to do with human nature.

            Anyway, it is certainly within your rights not to answer any of my points.

          • "majority of people" = "a little catholic bubble"?

            This sort of response definitely brings back memories. Glad to see some things don't change.

          • Leila Miller

            You are speaking nonsense, Paul. The majority of people, Catholic or not, can understand Fr. Tad's point. It's not rocket science. What does that have to do with "a little catholic bubble"?

            Would you like me to go into what has not changed since we last had contact, Paul? Shall we revisit the past?

          • Person A: "I think that X is true."
            Person B: Presents an argument against X.
            Person A: "I don't understand the argument for these reasons..."
            Person B: "Most people understand the argument."

            Person B is calling Person A an idiot.

            in my experience, person B is often kind of acting like a jerk (and often doesn't really understand the argument himself). I speak from experience as a jerk (from time to time), so I know what I'm talking about. I think the majority of people would agree with me ;)

            We can talk about whatever you like. But since I'm not following you, I won't see what you say unless you reply to one of my posts directly.

          • Leila Miller

            Well, I'm pretty sure this was not a matter of David innocently "not understanding" Fr. Tad's point.

            I'm done talking with you, Paul. I hope you are well, and have a nice life.

          • Then you aren't calling David an idiot. You're calling him a liar. That's much better. Not a bit snarky at all ;)

            B.T.W. If you reply to someone who replies to me, you are including yourself in a conversation I'm part of, and so I may end up replying to you again. It is always within your rights not to answer any of my points.

            Thanks for giving me the last word. I am very well, thanks. I hope you have a great life, too.

          • Leila Miller

            And... I really didn't want to respond again, but you misrepresented again. I did not call him a liar, as he never said, "I don't understand what Fr. Tad means". So your "Person A/B" dialogue did not apply in the first place. That was my point.

            Now, this will be my last word, as long as you don't misrepresent yet again.

          • In other words, I could keep this going on forever by just repeating what actually happened? :D

            Thanks, but no thanks.

          • josh

            Pacholczyk apparently didn't get the point of the thought experiment.

          • If anything that "embryos in the freezer" thought experiment only demonstrates why Catholic teaching should be followed. If embryos stayed where they are supposed to be -- in their mother's womb -- then the answer is easy. Save the mother and you save the child. People who appeal to it tacitly admit they've lost the argument.

          • Leila Miller

            Excellent point, Stacy.

          • David Nickol

            People who appeal to it tacitly admit they've lost the argument.

            I tend to agree that IVF and especially the freezing of embryos is undesirable, but that doesn't make the fact of fertility clinics and (if I remember correctly) about 400,000 frozen embryos go away. The "fire in the clinic" argument would be just as effective, it seems to me, if it were purely hypothetical and no frozen embryos existed at the moment.

            Of course, it doesn't actually prove anything about the morality or immorality of fertility clinics, IVF, or embryonic stem-cell research. What it demonstrates is that the idea of a frozen embryo being a life with the same moral worth as the life of a newborn baby or an adult is a purely intellectual proposition for most (or perhaps all) of those who claim to believe it. (I would note, by the way, that many who are pro-life—especially politicians—are not opposed to stem-cell research or even the donation of "excess" embryos from fertility clinics for use in stem-cell research.) If you want to make the argument that a canister with 5000 frozen embryos is morally the same—in terms of the moral worth of human lives—as a small town with 5000 men, women, and children, you might get someone to agree with you in theory. But I don't think anyone faced with the choice of saving only one of the two would choose to save the frozen embryos. And that would also be true if it was a choice between saving 5000 frozen embryos or 100 men, women, and children, or 10 men, women, and children, or one newborn baby.

            As I say, this does not prove anything, and you can always argue that the lives of the 5000 embryos really are morally equal to the lives of 5000 men, women and children. You can say that we are mere human beings who are deceived by appearances, and although we know the value of 5000 embryonic lives is no less than the value of 5000 lives of men, women, and children, our human weakness prevents us from feeling it or acting according to it. But I am afraid I disagree.

            I am not, however, arguing that it is morally neutral or morally justified to kill an embryo prior to a certain stage of development. I am not arguing either side of the abortion debate. And in fact this scenario arose from discussions of stem-cell research, not abortion.

          • "You can say that we are mere human beings who are deceived by appearances..."

            Oh no I wouldn't, and I hope you sincerely do not either.

            That is solipsism, the holding of presuppositions that prevent you from talking about them with anyone but yourself, if you are consistent and true to your philosophy. (Borrowed from my readings of Fr. Stanley Jaki, need to give attribution)

            Embryos either have moral worth or they do not. They are real objects in the real world, and I'm afraid sentiment and feelings aren't enough to win the moral debate, David. At some point you have to pick a side.

            To answer your question honestly though, if I were faced with that situation I would do what I could to save the ones I could, but not because I deemed anyone to be worth more than another. It's an old argument, and really doesn't demonstrate anything but what I said -- children belong in their rightful place. Period.

          • Andre Boillot

            I think he's trying to point out how wrong our moral perceptions can be in certain situations. Here I'm specifically thinking about studies that show decreasing sympathy towards those in need, as the number of people in need increases (you would think you should care more about helping larger groups of people).

          • David Nickol

            Embryos either have moral worth or they do not. They are real objects in
            the real world, and I'm afraid sentiment and feelings aren't enough to
            win the moral debate, David. At some point you have to pick a side.

            It is not clear to me what you are saying, particularly about "solipsism." My point was that "your side" might acknowledge what I believe to be the fact that in actual practice, the vast majority of people, no matter what they claimed to believe about when life begins and the moral worth of the lives of frozen embryos, would in actual practice save living, breathing, "postborn" humans over any number of frozen embryos. It is not a matter of sentiment and feelings winning the moral debate. It would be matter (from "your side") of people letting sentiment and feelings determine their actions in spite of what their intellectual convictions might be. "Your side" could argue that for human beings, doing the right thing is often so difficult that it feels like the wrong thing.

            To take an example not related to this question, if one believes it is always wrong to lie, and yet one is in a situation in which only a lie will save the life of a loved one, it is doubtful that many people, no matter how firmly convinced it was wrong to lie, would not in fact lie to save the loved one. And if in such a situation, if one did stick with one's convictions about lying and tell the truth that led to the death of the loved one, it is difficult to imagine a person who would not feel guilty. It is not a matter of sentiments and feelings determining what is right and wrong. It is a matter of one's feelings being out of synch with one's moral beliefs.

            At some point you have to pick a side.

            No, I can say, "I don't know." The only time, it seems to me, one must pick a side is if one is forced by circumstances to choose one action over another. I doubt that I will ever be called upon to save anyone or anything from a burning fertility clinic.

          • David, also you said, "Finally, I thought the Catholic belief was that what made a human person a human person was a spiritual soul." That's right. The teaching goes like this: If there's a human body, there's a human soul. Pretty simple. The confusion around time of infusion was related to when the body formed.

          • David Nickol

            The confusion around time of infusion was related to when the body formed.

            You speak as if there was confusion but that the issue has now been settled. However, it is my understanding that there is no official Church teaching as to when a soul is infused.

            I suppose you could argue that the time when the body forms is conception, but as I said, to the best of my knowledge there is no official Church teaching on that point. I don't see that the old concept of quickening would make any less sense if applied to a time in prenatal development when the infant would be minimally capable of exercising intellect and will. That certainly wouldn't be at the moment of conception. Some may think of a fertilized egg or a blastocyst as "the body," but I see no compelling reason to do so.

            If there is such a "thing" as a soul, I don't believe there is any way to determine or deduce the moment it is first present. The Catechism, I think, is quite subtle on this point:

            2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.

            It doesn't say an embryo is a person. It says it must be treated as a person.

          • Leila Miller

            2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

            Yes, the Church is clear that a human being is a human being from the moment of conception, and has the rights of every other person.

          • The teaching is wisely to err on the side of caution. It is possible that some egg-sperm unions do not even form a body. Medical speculation is that the high rate of early miscarriage (estimated 30-60% depending on who you read) is due to extreme genetic defect. Where is the line between human body and tumorous growth? We don't know. This is why, in my understanding, the Church does not explicitly declare personhood, but rather teaches to treat "as" a person, as you pointed out. A healthy human zygote is a healthy human body though.

          • David Nickol

            The teaching is wisely to err on the side of caution. It is possible that some egg-sperm unions do not even form a body.

            I basically agree, but it does seem, then, that the teaching of the Church is that life begins at conception . . . except when it does not. It seems to me an equally plausible view would be that whenever a sperm and an egg combine, the result is a human being. It is just that in some cases, genetic flaws result in a human being so profoundly disabled that it cannot survive more than hours or days. The most profoundly disabled infants that are born alive (even those without brains) are taken to be human beings and human persons by the Church. I am not sure why this cannot be extended to a profoundly flawed (disabled) zygote.

            Robert George said the following in a piece on First Things:

            Moreover, as almost all authorities in human embryology note, many of these unsuccessful pregnancies are really due to incomplete or defective fertilizations, and so in many cases, what is lost is not actually a human embryo. (To be a complete human organism, a human being, the entity must have the epigenetic primordia for a functioning brain and nervous system, which may be lacking as a result of a severe chromosomal defect.)

            Regarding his remark in parentheses, how does he know? If God infuses souls, and if God chooses to infuse a soul in an entity that does not have "the epigenetic primordia for a functioning brain and nervous system," then that entity, it seems to me, would be a person.

          • I think this is where scientific understanding is incomplete (the how) and therefore the Church rightly hesitates to declare something (the purpose and morality) is known when it isn't. Thus -- err on the side of caution. The words "treat as a person" were chosen carefully.

            To make it personal, I've had miscarriages and I have no choice but to accept that I'll never know why or what exactly happened. So I mourned "as if" I lost a child, but admittedly not at all like I would suffer grief if I saw my 10 year old's corpse or even a 20-week old stillborn baby. It's just human David, we just don't know some things so we do the best we can and try to keep learning. That's my mommy theologian take on it anyway, which is, to the best of my knowledge, in line with Church teaching.

          • Leila Miller

            Amen! As the Church puts it:

            A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception." CCC #2378

            In other words: Children are not a commodity. IVF treats children as a commodity, and the effects to the children are only just beginning to be felt.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      My wife and I have decided that two children is good for us.

      I always hope when parents decide what is "good for them" they include in that calculus what is "good for their children." Sometimes the best thing you can give a child is another brother or sister.

      I also hope they include what is "good for society" and the world. For example, if you live in a materially advanced culture where you children will likely grow up healthy and receive a good education and be able to make a contribution, why not have more kids to benefit the world?

      • Two kids is the number that makes us happy. I'd imagine our children would more desire to be raised by happy parents than unhappy parents, and I'm quite confident that we would be much less happy with one more child.

        It is difficult to consider how many children would be good for society, but I don't have kids because other people want me to. If other people think more children is a good thing, then they can have them.

      • Leila Miller

        Kevin, amen! My kids are blessed by their many siblings, who will likely be there for them long after my husband and I are gone. And this will include many cousins as well. My children (every one) want us to have more kids.

        I remember as the youngest of two kids, I always wanted more siblings. As JPII said, the greatest gift you can give your children is the gift of brothers and sisters. And the idea that folks would be more unhappy with another child is rarely born out in reality! My goodness, every child is a treasure, and it's often the children who "surprise" their parents (unplanned?) who are the most treasured, and for whom they are the most grateful (as the parents originally were determined to say "NO"). I should know. We were "done" at three kids. We have eight now and I can't believe my former self, and that these last five boys would never have been here, my older kids never would have had these brothers! They are treasures beyond description.

        To think that they could make parents less "happy" is just sad. Long ago, I wrote this post about those repulsive "Essure" commercials:

        http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/04/i-hate-essure-commercials.html

        We are materially rich in the west, and yet so very impoverished.

        • Turns out the religious blogosphere is a little Catholic bubble after all.

          • Leila Miller

            Paul, stop following me on Disqus, please.

          • Done.

            It's a bit funny, though, to see you responding to people who respond to me, talking about what I said. The most charitable interpretation is that you've become a Strange Notions cheerleader?

          • Leila Miller

            Bradon Vogt is a friend of mine, and I've been here since the beginning. Thank you for agreeing to my request to stop following me. That's the last thing I am going to say to you.

          • If you don't want me to be responding to you or following you here in the future, then don't connect yourself to my conversations here.

            Otherwise, it's an open forum. If you want to comment on a dialogue I'm having with someone, I may want to respond to you or to follow your responses, so I know what you are saying.

            Best,
            Paul

      • Leila Miller

        Kevin, you might enjoy my exchange with the air conditioner man a while back. It was a good exchange, but also sad:

        http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2012/04/today-air-conditioning-man-told-me-he.html

    • "The real tragedy is wanting children and not being able to have them. The Catholic Church enshrines this tragedy by their opposition of IVF."

      Thanks for the comment, Paul. I agree with you that infertility can often be a tragic and painful burden. The only proper response is compassion. But perhaps I can ask a couple follow-up questions:

      1. Do you think parents have a right to children? Are children a gift freely given, or a right demanded by justice?

      2. We both agree that conceiving and raising a child is a noble end. But do you believe noble ends should be pursued in any feasible way? In other words, do you believe good ends always justify the means?

      • 1. Are children a gift freely given, or a right demanded by justice?

        I don't think they're either of these.

        2. Do you believe good ends always justify the means?

        No I don't. Not when the means involve the involuntary suffering or killing of people, or the unjustified restriction of another person's freedoms.

        IVF looks like an infertility treatment. I can think of no substantial non-religious objection to it.

        • Thanks for the reply, Paul. I appreciate both of your answers.

          First, you said earlier, "the real tragedy is wanting children and not being able to have them." Yet if you deny that children are a right demanded by justice, why is infertility tragic? (Note: I *agree* infertility is tragic, I'm just curious why you would think so, as an atheist.) It would only seem to be tragic if humans were *meant* to have children, which would imply a teleos--a purpose to human life. And if fruitfulness is one of life's purposes, then what Fr. Barron said in his article would be absolutely true: choosing against your life's purpose is very sad.

          Second, I'm glad you agree that good ends don't justify the means, and that it's never OK to intentionally kill people or force needless suffering, even to attain a good end. That means we're starting from the same moral framework.

          (Though I'd challenge you to provide reasons why that moral framework is objectively binding, assuming atheism is true.)

          Understanding that, the relevant question is whether IVF involves the intentional killing of human persons. We know that most of the embryos conceived through IVF are frozen indefinitely, used for research, or discarded. These are, of course, morally-neutral acts if the embryo is *not* a person, but deeply immoral acts if the embryo *is* a person. So the more basic question is, "Are embryos human persons?"

          The consensus among embryologists and embryology textbooks is clear: "Yes, a human begins at fertilization."

          This scientific fact provides a devastating, substantial, non-religious reason to reject IVF. Even if IVF only destroyed one human person, it should be rejected by your own moral framework (i.e., the ends don't justify the means.)

          • If you deny that children are a right
            demanded by justice, why is infertility tragic?

            I don't think the only tragedy involves being denied one's rights. It's a tragedy to be denied your dreams. My own understanding of tragedy is a series of events that moves contrary to the "storybook way things should be".

            In the Greek epics, like the Iliad and Odyssey, when Agamemnon refuses to give a priest of Apollo his daughter, Apollo devastates his armies with disease. Or when Odysseus returns home, he takes the help of a goddess in order to overthrow a band of wicked interlopers, and triumphs. Tragedies are when bad things happen to good people. When someone does everything right, and still suffers, often because of the mistakes of others.

            In this sense, it is a tragedy when two people who desire to have children, share their love with them and who would make good parents.cannot have children, while terrible parents can have so many.

            It violates our moral good sense.

            This scientific fact provides a devastating, substantial, non-religious reason to reject IVF.

            I don't think the human individual starts as a zygote anymore than it starts as a sperm and egg. There's both science and philosphy going on here. It's not just science. I don't think they're people yet. Since I've already started this discussion with Kevin, I'd recommend looking there first before asking further questions. Although, if you do want to pursue this (maybe taking it in a different direction), I'd like you to answer the same question I asked Kevin. If it is a scientific fact that a zygote is a human person, since scientific facts are always tentative, what new possible discovery would change your mind?

            (Though I'd challenge you to provide reasons why that moral framework is objectively binding, assuming atheism is true.)

            I don't have a good answer for you. Let me think on this and get back to you.

          • "My own understanding of tragedy is a series of events that moves contrary to the "storybook way things should be"."

            This is interesting as it's not a view many of my other atheist friends would espouse. If we agree that life has a "way things should be", wouldn't this be another way of saying that life has objective purpose? If not, how does this statement differ? Another question is, if life has a "way things should be", how do we determine what that way is?

            "Tragedies are when bad things happen to good people."

            When you say "bad" and "good" do you mean objectively bad and good acts or just things that seem or feel bad or good in your particular view?

            In order to determine if something is a tragedy, we'd have to agree on what "bad" and "good" mean. But if "bad" and "good" are merely subjective, then nothing can be considered a true, objective tragedy.

            "I don't think the human individual starts as a zygote anymore than it starts as a sperm and egg...I don't think they're people yet."

            You've offered no evidence to contradict the scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization (i.e., conception.) I shared a long list of embryologists and embryology textbooks which affirm this point, so I find it surprising that you would dismiss it without reason. Most atheists appeal to scientific consensus elsewhere (e.g., concerning evolution by natural selection), but if that appeal has any strength, it must be respected even when it falls against one's personal beliefs.

            "I'd like you to answer the same question I asked Kevin. If it is a scientific fact that a zygote is a human person, since scientific facts are always tentative, what new possible discovery would change your mind?"

            Great question. I suppose science would have to discover that an embryo in fact does *not* have unique human DNA, and does *not* have everything it needs to develop into a baby, given the appropriate environment and nourishment--the same two things infants need to develop into an adult.

            Yet science has very clearly shown both to be true. An embryo is undoubtedly a human organism--it has two human parents, so what other species could it be?--and it has its own unique DNA, distinct from both mother and father. Since it's difficult, if not impossible, to "undiscover" these facts, I think it's extremely unlikely this scientific truth will be reversed.

            While understanding that you've provided no good evidence to doubt life begins at fertilization--you only asserted it doesn't, and didn't seem to mind dismissing the scientific consensus--I'd like to ask you a follow-up question:

            If human life doesn't begin at fertilization, as almost all scientists and non-scientists believe, then when does it begin?

            "I don't have a good answer for you. Let me think on this and get back to you."

            Thanks for your honesty. It's a mark of your good character. I'll eagerly look forward to your reply, as I think it's a fundamental question in this and other discussions.

          • This is interesting as it's not a view many of my other atheist friends would espouse.

            Maybe so, but I'm not an atheist.

            If we agree that life has a "way things should be", wouldn't this be another way of saying that life has objective purpose? If not, how does this statement differ?

            It's the way we would like things to be, not some objective "way things are supposed to be". Maybe there is this objective end to all things, but as far as I can tell, it involves everyone dying in the fires of the sun, the sun eventually going out and the universe freezing.

            When you say "bad" and "good" do you mean objectively bad and good acts or just things that seem or feel bad or good in your particular view?

            When things that we perceive as being bad (may be objective or not) happen to (objectively) good people. It's the idea that fame and fortune, or for deeper stories a happy and peaceful home and the death of one's enemies, should come to those who live the virtuous life. Real life doesn't work like that, but a good epic does. Real life is less an epic more like a tragedy (or a comedy, maybe).

            You've offered no evidence to contradict the scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization (i.e., conception.)

            Human life didn't begin then. Scientifically, it began about 300 thousand years ago.

            Maybe you are talking about an individual human life (maybe my life began at conception), and maybe I don't understand the science, but I don't know what that phrase means in this context: I began or this person's life began as an embryo. It seems arbitrary. I've never met a single-celled person. And why not their life beginning as the sperm and the egg, or before that?

            I suppose science would have to discover that an embryo in fact does *not* have unique human DNA, and does *not* have everything it needs to develop into a baby

            It seems as though you already may have part of that, although since I'm not an embryologist, I won't press the point too strongly (I'll just go ask one and take what they say). Apparently some of the embryo's genetic information is added by the mother after conception and throughout its early development. Other non-genetic information that determines major aspects of the child, are chemically determined even later.

            Also, I've been told that tumors have unique human DNA.

            If human life doesn't begin at fertilization, as almost all scientists and non-scientists believe, then when does it begin?

            First, I'd need to know what you mean by "human life" in this context, second, it doesn't matter how many people believe a false idea, third I'm not sure that most scientists (or relevant scientists, really) would buy your definition and agree with you, although if you have statistics (they probably are out there) I'd be interested in seeing them.

            Finally, without a good definition of "individual human life", I don't know what your question even means.

            Human life in general began a couple hundred thousand years ago, give or take.

          • "It's the way we would like things to be, not some objective "way things are supposed to be"."

            So what you really mean is "the way I'd like things to be", not "the way things are supposed to be", right? I just want to be sure I understand your position. If it's the former, then all you've basically concluded is that "infertility is tragic because infertility is not the way I'd like things to be." But that would make infertility no less tragic than me not getting the chocolate ice cream I wanted.

            Now, of course, we both would agree that infertility *is* more tragic than failing to get our choice of desert. But unless there is some objective purpose to life--unless couples are *meant* to have children--then we have no reason to explain why this is so.

            "Maybe there is this objective end to all things, but as far as I can tell, it involves everyone dying in the fires of the sun, the sun eventually going out and the universe freezing."

            I think you've misunderstood how I'm using the word "end". Perhaps I could have been clearer. I'm using it in the philosophical sense to mean "purpose" or "aim." I don't mean it in the chronological sense to mean "how something concludes."

            Earlier you claimed to believe in a "storybook way things should be". I'm just curious a) what this "should be" is and b) how you know that.

            "Human life didn't begin then. Scientifically, it began about 300 thousand years ago. Maybe you are talking about an individual human life (maybe my life began at conception), and maybe I don't understand the science, but I don't know what that phrase means in this context: I began or this person's life began as an embryo. It seems arbitrary. I've never met a single-celled person. And why not their life beginning as the sperm and the egg, or before that?"

            I'm not sure where to begin with this paragraph as it's all over the place. Taking it point by point:

            - Yes, I'm obviously talking about an individual human life when I say "human life begins at fertilization." I'm not sure how you could possibly read that sentence to mean "the human species began less than 300 thousand years ago."

            - You say, "I don't know what that phrase means in this context: I began or this person's life began as an embryo." I admire your humility in admitting ignorance. But to be clear, an "I don't know" doesn't refute the scientific consensus which claims to know human development begins at fertilization. You have still failed to offer any good reasons to doubt this.

            - You say, I've never met a single-celled person." To be blunt, your personal interactions are irrelevant to when life begins. The question of whether life begins at conception is independent of whether you've met any single-celled humans.

            - You ask, "And why not their life beginning as the sperm and the egg, or before that?" Good question. The sperm and the egg do not form a unique human being. They are simply elements of an already-existing human beings, namely the mom and the dad. But when they meet, and the sperm fertilizes the egg, a unique human organism is formed that not only has unique DNA but will develop into a unique human being. Neither is true for the sperm or egg on its own.

            "Apparently some of the embryo's genetic information is added by the mother after conception and throughout its early development."

            I haven't heard of this so I'd be interested to learn more. But even if true, it doesn't conflict with what I said earlier. I argued that the new organism is human because 1) it has human parents, 2) it will develop into a human under the natural conditions, and 3) it has unique DNA, distinct from the mother and father. None of those facts are called into question by your claim.

            "Other non-genetic information that determines major aspects of the child, are chemically determined even later."

            This is simply irrelevant to the beginning point of a human person. For example, all mom determine major, non-genetic characteristics of their two-year-olds but that does not make their two-year-old less human.

            "Also, I've been told that tumors have unique human DNA."

            Scientific hearsay is not worth much in conversations like this. But granting that this was even true, I don't see how it's relevant to our discussion.

            Though it might have unique DNA, a tumor is *not* a human organism. It will not develop into a human being. Tumors are no more human beings than livers, eyes, or skin cells are.

            "First, I'd need to know what you mean by "human life" in this context"

            Sure. I'm referring to something that is a) a human organism and b) is alive.

            "second, it doesn't matter how many people believe a false idea"

            I'm curious what you would say if something used this fall-back objection to the theory of evolution. What would you say to someone who rejected the consensus view of science by saying, "Well they're probably all wrong, soo..."

            If it's a bad response for evolution it's a bad response to embryology.

            "third I'm not sure that most scientists (or relevant scientists, really) would buy your definition and agree with you, although if you have statistics (they probably are out there) I'd be interested in seeing them."

            Paul, I've provided you a list of the most popular embryology textbooks used in colleges today, which included quotes from the most eminent embryologists. You've offered no evidence in return other than baseless denial.

            "Human life in general began a couple hundred thousand years ago, give or take."

            This is a textbook case of a red herring. Of course we both would agree that the human species began thousands of years ago. Clearly that's not what's under discussion, and bringing it up is only a diversionary tactic. What we're discussing is when any individual human begins. When did yours begin? Dodging the question doesn't answer it.

          • So what you really mean is "the way I'd like things to be", not "the way things are supposed to be", right?

            Very close. I'm saying that's all it needs to be, but I think it may be more and I hope it's more. And not just me, but everyone else, too.

            I changed your statement:

            all you've basically concluded is that "infertility is tragic because infertility is not the way I'd like things to be."

            to:

            all you've basically concluded is that
            "infertility is tragic because infertility is not the way the infertile person would like
            things to be."

            It's a tragedy for a Romeo and Juliet. I get to walk home from the play. Real life tragedies are tragedies for the people experiencing them.

            Now, of course, we both would agree that infertility *is* more tragic
            than failing to get our choice of desert. But unless there is some
            objective purpose to life--unless couples are *meant* to have
            children--then we have no reason to explain why this is so.

            If a degree of tragedy is determined by the person experiencing it, and since experiences are determined by an common, objective, evolved human nature, a person suffering from infertility will find it a far greater tragedy than not getting her favorite flavor of ice-cream. Any exceptions to this rule are not mentally well.

            There need be no objective purpose for something to be objectively more tragic than something else, if "tragedy" is being defined by the common human experience, objectively and naturally determined, purely from a series of efficient causes.

            I'm not saying that's definitely the way things are. But it's the way things could be. This is getting close to that region of questions I don't know how to answer (aesthetics, not ethics, but getting close).

            I think you've misunderstood how I'm using the word "end". Perhaps I
            could have been clearer. I'm using it in the philosophical sense to mean
            "purpose" or "aim." I don't mean it in the chronological sense to mean
            "how something concludes."

            If all things conclude in a way outside their objective aim, then that's the best evidence that the world is either not designed, or designed by an idiot, or by a monster.

            The sperm and the egg do not form a unique human being. They are simply
            elements of an already-existing human beings, namely the mom and the
            dad. But when they meet, and the sperm fertilizes the egg, a unique
            human organism is formed that not only has unique DNA but will develop
            into a unique human being. Neither is true for the sperm or egg on its
            own.

            But the sperm and egg do form unique human beings all the time. They contain all the relevant genetic information (except that information added later by the mother, I suppose). And they did form me. The sperm and the egg together formed me. I began as a sperm and an egg.

            Cells with mutated or damaged DNA can become tumorous, according to Bernstein
            C, Prasad AR, Nfonsam V and Bernstein H. (2013); according to them
            that's the main way tumors come about. I would take this to mean that
            many tumors have unique DNA.

            Though it might have unique DNA, a tumor is *not* a human organism. It will not develop into a human being.

            Not unaided. But then, an embryo won't become a human being unaided. I'm sure that, given advanced enough care, a tumor could be made into a unique human person. If so, it has unique DNA and could become a human adult. Should tumors be protected?

            I'm curious what you would say if something used this fall-back
            objection to the theory of evolution. What would you say to someone who
            rejected the consensus view of science by saying, "Well they're probably
            all wrong, soo..."

            If I wasn't an expert, I'd point them to a citation for the consensus view. After that, I'd not engage them because I'm not an expert and I don't want to give exposure to crackpot ideas.

            If you think I'm promulgating a crackpot idea about embryology, let me know here, and I'll stop talking with you (a non-embryologist) about embryos and will go and find an embryologist, talk with them, and become properly educated.

  • Cori

    I have 2 children myself, but I think it's everyone's personal choice whether or not they want to have kids & that should be respected by all. I don't think people should feel forced to have kids just because society thinks they should otherwise they're considered selfish especially in a day & age when the economy is so bad, the job market is so unstable, there's so much crime, poverty & homelessness which so many kids are already subject to living in. I also don't think that the heading to this article should be titled "The Very Sad Childfree Life" because it sounds insulting to those who do not have children & the article makes it appear as though people without kids are living this sad pathetic & very selfish life.

    • John Doman

      Where did Fr. Barron imply that people should be "forced" to have kids?

  • Also, what about gay couples that would like not to be childfree, but instead to share their love with an adopted young son or daughter? To all three of them be drawn beyond themselves and integrated into the great reality of family that will expand them and make them more alive?

    • John Doman

      Children are entitled to both a mother and a father.
      If you disagree, imagine if either your mother or your father didn't exist.

  • David Nickol

    Fr. Barron says:

    Having children was about carrying on the family name and tradition; it was about contributing to the strength and integrity of one's society; it was about perpetuating the great adventure of the human race; it was a participation in the dynamisms of nature itself. And finally, it was about cooperating with God's desire that life flourish: "And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it" (Gen. 9:7).

    I think he is romanticizing, overinterpreting, and overintellectualizing why human beings from the dawn of the human race had children. Reproducing is what biological organisms do. If our prehuman ancestors (and the ancestors of all the other living creatures on earth today) had not reproduced as a matter of course, there would be no life today and no human beings. I think it it would be bizarre to attribute to giraffes or chimpanzees all the motives Fr. Barron lists above why humans have children, but I do not think it at all bizarre to find that human beings are motivated to reproduce in many ways by the same forces of nature that work on all other living creatures. Reproducing is pretty much the default, not the lofty choice of great intellects.

    It is an economic fact that the more affluent the society, the lower the birthrate, and this trend goes back much, much farther than the advent of effective means of contraception.

    • Mikegalanx

      Of course.
      A female pompilid wasp attacks a much larger spider in a duel that often results in her death; if victorious she will paralyze the spider before laboriously dragging it back to her nest (sometimes biting the legs off to make it easier to handle) where she will lay her eggs on it, to hatch into grubs that will eat it alive from the inside- a very selfless action, on the part of mommy wasp.

      A newly hatched queen bee will immediately crawl to the cells
      of her royal sisters to sting them to death, thus ensuring the success of her own children over theirs.

      A male lion taking over a pride will kill all the cubs, both to avoid feeding them and to bring the females into heat earlier, selflessly providing for his own offspring.

      People have children for the most selfish of reasons, as Fr.Barron says- carrying on the family name is a stand in for what we are actually doing, which is carrying on our selfish genes.

      Ever been to a Little league or Peewee soccer game, or seen one of those beauty contests for children? Selflessness?

      To the earlier quote about choosing between a life of selflessness or selfishness, it is estimated that the cost of raising a child in the US for the next 18 years will be about $240,000- up to 18, so not even including college. It could be argued that a truly selfless person would give that money to starving children in poor countries, rather than using it replicate him or herself.

      • Jay

        Couldnt both thus be equally selfish (ie, choosing to not have children vs. choosing to have children)? doest it depend very much upon the couple's motivations? Ive heard people say that it is better to not have children because it reduces the carbon footprint, which I suppose has some merits, but I have never heard anything that would make me think those with no children would spend their extra money on feeding the poor.

        • Mikegalanx

          Yes, and/or equally selfless- as in, we assume, Fr. Barron's decision not to have children.

          And of course some do- or at least claim to- spend extra money on charity, or use their time doing good works. (First, anything you see on the cover of Time is there for sensationalism: and the story will be slanted to push the editor's view, i.e., "give me a story on the new childless and how they're all a bunch of selfish bastards".)

          The main point I was making was not that childless people will spend more on charity, but against the idea that having children is "selfless" because it costs you a lot of time and money- when in fact, the desire to reproduce and push your children forward can be considered as the definition of "selfish".

          But mixed motives, certainly- look at Henry VIII- he had a selfish desire to have a son follow him; but also for the unselfish reason he feared England would plunge back into civil war if he didn't.

          Ironic, considering the daughter he thought insufficient turned out to be the greatest ruler Britain ever had.

          • Jay

            Interesting thoughts.

            "And of course some do- or at least claim to- spend extra money on charity, or use their time doing good works."

            I'm sure there will be research on this segment of the population eventually that will tell whether or not this is generally true. My guess from personal experience is "no," those who don't have children are simply more likely to spend money on themselves and those they love. There are always outliers within a research study that would confirm what you are saying, but my guess remains that generally "no," that won't be the case. Again, it will be interesting to see whether or not research finds those without children are more charitable and more likely to donate their time to things like volunteering.

            I suppose one of the big questions is when is satisfying one's internal motivations not a sign of selfishness? I'm in pre-novice house within a Carmelite order now. While some might say the idea that I might end up not getting married is a sign of being "selfless," others might point to other internal desires I have that could be taken as satisfying other "selfish" tendencies. For example, I like to live in a comfortable place, have nice meals to eat, and be surrounded by fun and interesting people. I get all of these things at the place I live; thus, I am satisfying some of my internal desires. Does satisfying these internal desires constitute selfishness? I suppose that has something to do with how one defines selfishness.

          • Randy Gritter

            BTW, Saying Elizabeth I is the greatest ruler England ever had is something Catholics might have a different view on. She was pretty brutal with the Catholics. She did produced quite a few saints by torturing priests to death. Evelyn Waugh's account of St Edmund Campion's story can give you a taste of how life was for Catholics under Britains greatest ruler ever. http://www.ignatius.com/Products/ECAMP-P/edmund-campion.aspx

          • Mikegalanx

            Of course.

            Thomas More, followed by CromwelI, followed by Mary Tudor, followed by Elizabeth- there were a lot of Christians murdering each other for thought crimes in those days.

            Though England was mild compared to what was going on in Europe.

            And of course for most of the period from the fall of Rome to the Counter-Reformation, the Popes reached their positions through war, murder, bribery, intrigue and riot, and kept it that way. Nonetheless, some of the most ruthless and blood-stained are acknowledged as among the great ones. History judges by different standards.

      • vito

        totally agree with you. You know how many already existing children could be saved from terrible death and suffering with 240 000 dollars in some places in Africa or elswhere, where the whole family lives on half a dollar a day...

  • Andre Boillot

    I'll go out on a limb and assume, dangerous as that might be, that Fr. Barron has had most of his schooling paid for by others, has struggled very little to find employ, and doesn't face the prospect of having to help fund the education of the children he won't be having.

    Perhaps somebody that had, is, or would be facing the ever growing financial burdens of financing a college education, and finding work in this economy, might be more sensitive to many of the reasons that people are delaying and/or having fewer children. The conditions that helped foster the baby-boomer generation - WW II veterans returning home to cheap education (much of it paid for by GI Bill), cheap housing, a booming economy, and jobs which paid enough to allow for the Mrs. to stay home - are long gone.

    He mentions the effects that the 1930s economic crash had on birth-rates, yet glosses over and trivializes the economic realities facing those who wish to have children today, and instead levels a blanket accusation of selfishness on those who would not subject their individual choice to "family, neighborhood, society, culture, the human race, nature, and ultimately, God."

  • Fredrick

    Just WHAT would this ah, 'person' SAY to a female WHO HAS HAD NUMEROUS out of weldlock children with NUMEROUS males -- she can't support the children is on welfare, and, of course, babydady ISNOT in the picture.....

  • Fredrick

    Rather obviously, this individual IS OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE REALITY of persons on welfare with NUMEROUS out of wedlock children that they CANNOT financially SUPPORT WITHOUT GOVERNMENT ASSISTANCE (8E, WELFARE!) AND/OR THE COST OF SAID CHILDREN....ESPECIALLY TO RELATIVES WHO ARE EXPECTED TO HELP SUPPORT/BABYSIT/RAISE SAID CHILDREN.... SO-CALLED BABYDADDY NEEDS TO BE NEUTERED!

  • vito

    I have a child and I love him, but I must admit I was much happier childless. I respect other people's choices, but perhaps it really is not for everyone. A childless life is not necessarily a sad one. Far from it. Noone is sadder than an unhappy dad.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Say instead you are not experiencing as much pleasure and are experiencing more pain.

      You have the potential to experience much more happiness than before because you have this new opportunity to get out of yourself and give yourself generously to others.

  • vito

    I would add that whether people choose to have or not to have kids, they do it for "selfish" reasons, i.e. they do it because they want it or succumb to societal pressure or spouse pressure. I have never heard a truly "altrustic" reason for having kids

  • driverseat

    The generalizations in this article are so disrespectful to all the good, kindhearted individuals without children—many of whom are not at all self-centered or valueless as implied by the author. In addition to the responsibility to create life, God also gave us freedoms and opportunities to choose how to celebrate life, children, and membership in the human family. Spreading the belief (even implicitly) that otherwise good and moral choices for living one's life are inherently "sad" if they don't incorporate childbearing, is the part of this article that is really the most sad. :(

  • Green_Sapphire

    "Up until very recent times, the decision whether or not to have children
    would never have been simply "up to the individual." Rather, the
    individual choice would have been situated in the context of a whole
    series of values that properly condition and shape the will"

    Not true. Up until very recent times, (a) people liked to have sex and (b) contraception was non-existent, unavailable, expensive, unreliable and/or women had a low-level of education and/or sex education (including family planning) was illegal or 'abstinence-only' or ineffectively vague and/or abortion was expensive or illegal or unavailable or unsafe, etc.

    And so people who didn't want children or didn't want that many children had them anyway. So they tried to see the value and benefits they could get out of the experience. 'If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.'

    In recent times, (a) people still like to have sex and (b) contraception is more reliable, less expensive, and more available and women have a higher level of education and sex education is generally getting better -- and is available via the Internet if not in school and abortion is legal, more affordable, safe, and available.

    And so more people who don't want children don't have them, and more people who don't want many children have few.

    Still, forty percent of US pregnancies are unplanned and unwanted, because there are still problems with contraceptive availability and price, problems with ineffective sex education, etc. Hopefully, that number will drop significantly so that all children are wanted and welcomed. I don't find that goal sad in any way.

     

    "we are drawn out beyond ourselves and integrated into great realities that expand us and make us more alive. It is finally with relief and a burst of joy that we realize that our lives are not about us"

    I agree that each life is about more than one person and it good to stretch and grow and also serve the common good, etc. And I agree that, when life presents challenges and losses, it is good to find the benefits as well as coping with them.

    But I don't see any good in unnecessary suffering.

    And I don't feel that it is sad for people to have the choice of by what means to grow and flourish in their various powers and abilities.

     

    "And you, be fruitful and multiply, teem on the earth and multiply in it"

    We're teeming already. Mission accomplished.

  • jakael02

    The Times author seems to make an assumption: The reason childless couples are more happy is because without children couples are free to focus on consumerism and themselves. Thus, does focusing on consumerism and yourself make someone happier? To the atheist, I believe so. To the 21st century Christian, I believe so. To the historical & devout Christian, not likely.
    A devout Christian is likely to "start" the process of anti-consumerism, less focus on oneself and replace it with fruits of the holy Spirit: such as Joy, kindness, peace, faith, etc. They use these gifts to replace what our society rears us as to what happiness is.

  • kegaket1

    I am 56 and childless, but would have preferred having children. Things just never worked out that way. Is that sad? I don't think so. A door closed, but I have opened others. I am also a devout Christian who prefers to leave the judging up to God.

  • SgtKonus

    Interesting article.

  • HeraSentMe

    I see you spread this dreck far and wide.

    Whatsa matter, childless people reduce the number of potential tithers?

    • John Doman

      We think children are good, that's all.

      • Doug Shaver

        We think children are good

        I think meat is good, but I don't insult vegetarians.

  • Guest

    Written by a Catholic Priest of all people...well, of course. Who better to lecture the childfree than a CELIBATE MAN! Please...

    • John Doman

      Yes. And childfree people never lecture or criticize parents.

      • Guest

        Considering all the crap we've had to endure from pronatalists like you which are imposing a crappy existence on people just to satisfy your selfish desires, we're more than within our rights to do so.

  • D C

    If it's anything that rattles childless Catholic priests more than childfree couples, it is their fear of a slightly lower supply of children on this planet.

    • John Doman

      I'm sorry, was that supposed to be clever?
      Oh...I see. You're implying that all priests are child molesters! Oh, you sly dog!
      Hey, guess what? You're an asshole. Seriously. What you just said marks you as a complete and utter asshole.
      My little brother is a priest. He's a great guy. He's dedicated his life to helping others. But because he's a priest, you think he's a child molester.
      Yep. Total asshole.

  • Priti Noronha

    If God wanted us to procreate he would have made Adam, Eve and Kids together at one go...but he made Adam first and then he realized well he is alone and made Eve...and he stopped at that...

    I am a Catholic but I don't believe in any religion. I believe religion exist only to make us obedient, non-thinking slaves. 'Having kids' is just one of the things you have to do to be an ideal human being. I don't buy it...

    • Michael Murray

      I am a Catholic but I don't believe in any religion.

      So what does it mean to be a Catholic but you don't believe in religion?

    • Kevin Aldrich

      Priti, What convinces you that you know enough about the Catholic faith to not believe in it? Nowhere in the Catechism have I read that you cannot be an ideal human being if you do not have kids. Most canonized saints ("ideal human beings") never had kids because they never got married.

  • Priti Noronha

    @ Michael: I was raised a Catholic. I am from India and from a very conservative family. My brother is a Sunday school teacher. To not antagonize my family members I put up a charade of going to Church and the other stuff. I am not an atheist...I believe in God...just not organized religion. Fortunately my husband too does not want kids. However you would not believe the pressure we are under to have kids. Especially when they keep saying, God wants you to have kids.

    • Michael Murray

      I'm sorry Priti that's a tough situation to be in. It's also ironic because the world really needs less children not more! If I believed in God I would seriously doubt that He wants us to overpopulate and destroy His creation.

  • Jim

    How utterly condescending to brand my carefully made life choices as sad, and insinuate I am indifferent towards the suffering or feelings of others. However, hypocritically, I'm can smugly inform you I find your own lifelong dedication to the childish notion of an omnipotent and caring deity similarly 'sad'.

    • John Doman

      I find your comment kind of sad.

      • Jim

        Of course you do. You assume if someone holds differing beliefs to your own then they must be somehow emotionally crippled and missing out on the majesty of existence. But I don't require your approval or your faith. My eyes are open.

  • CaDan

    I thought God has a plan for everyone, so how do you know that couples choosing not to have children aren't part of his plan? You don't quite frankly. As a matter of fact there's much more to life then simply reproducing now I know that may make a dent in the number of followers the church has, but the church doesn't have the right to wag its finger at anyone. After all the phillipines sure didn't take to it. They went ahead and voted to have family planning even though the church is against contraceptive in these poor countries where children routinely starve to death, in spite of the claim that god will provide for them. Well I'll tell you what when the church starts feeding and carding for all these people they encouraged people to bring into the world I spite of not being able to take care of them then we can talk. Until then I suggest YOUR organization take a more responsible approach to this.
    Thank you for your time.

    • John Doman

      First of all, the Church is founded by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, so yes, she does have the right to "wag her finger" at people.
      Second of all, the Church doesn't want people to have kids to "increase her numbers." She wants people to have kids because kids are good. Children are good. HUMAN BEINGS are GOOD.
      Third of all: The church is the largest charity in the world. Catholics feed and care for more children than any other organization in the world. So your comments about that are utterly ignorant.
      Fourth of all: your comment about the bishop of bling is utterly irrelevant, and is nothing more than an attempt to dodge the issue.

      • Guest

        "HUMAN BEINGS are GOOD."

        You obviously haven't spent much time with humans then. We're not "good" we are a virus with shoes.

      • Eniena

        Actually they don't. As I pointed out earlier in Matthew 19:12 Jesus said it was perfectly acceptable for people to not have children.

        So no, actually, the Catholic Church, not only has no legitimate reason to shame people into having children they've no biblical authority to do so either.

        YET they still continually lie claiming otherwise and have enacted man-made ordinances proclaiming it's a sin not to have them. They're in fact part of the reason we're beginning to experience overpopulation and the problems that come with it.

        The Catholic Church is in no business to dictate to anyone they have an obligation to have children. None exists anyway.

      • CaDan

        The church was founded by man; after Christ died. Christ literally means teacher, and although the teachings are based on his word all the extras came from mankind
        2. People who follow any religion will site goodness as the chief motivator in anything they do but the organization itself is very much about the numbers why else have a Vatican bank? If your not going to run it like a business or properties etc. a orw ionized religion needs followers or it doesn't work why do you think the pope is reforming so much even the stance on birth control? Even he realizes how outdated the stance is.
        3. I do know that the church does help a lot of people when I was in Vietnam I donated to one of the orphanages there in the city of bien hoa - I'm sure you'll have to google that city (since your probably ignorant of it's whereabouts )But so do a number of other organizations that are secular the key difference is religious nuts are always saying to procreate without really caring about the consequences.
        4. My comment about the bishop of bling is very much too the point: a clergymen living in absolute excess and the church turning it's head while the poor starve but are condemned for using birth control.

      • CaDan

        You seem to be upset by my statements; I guess you can dish out criticism but it's much harder to take it when someone is questioning your lifestyle or beliefs. I guess all in all if you don't like it then you shouldn't do it to other people; remember the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated

      • Doug Shaver

        HUMAN BEINGS are GOOD.

        And therefore more human beings are better? I don't think so.

  • SkewedPerception

    People have always had children for reasons that are just as self-serving as those who choose not to. I respect a loving, devoted parent. I also respect people who don't want children and don't cave in to pressure to have them. If you truly want nothing to do with raising a child, not having one is an act of kindness. .

    Unless you believe procreating is a moral obligation even for those incapable of loving and caring for a child, no matter how much pain that child might end up suffering,

  • SkewedPerception

    I respect a devoted, loving parent, but I also respect people who want nothing to do with raising children and don't give in to pressure be it from a spouse, family, etc. The whole "selfish" argument is ridiculous. As if people don't have children for self-serving reasons all the time. Nothing could be more selfish and cruel than having a child you won't love and care for and just maybe people who don't want kids realize that. Becoming a parent doesn't give anyone the default moral high ground. Sometimes, not having a child is an act of kindness for all concerned.

    • John Doman

      For most people, having kids makes them a better person. It did for me.

      • Doug Shaver

        For most people, having kids makes them a better person.

        I suspect that's so, but you can count me in the minority for whom it didn't work. There are a couple of women living in Florida, now in their 40s, whose childhoods were painful because I could not, despite the best intentions, become a good father to them.

        Fortunately for them, because of an exceptional mother, they turned out OK. It's been a few years since I heard any news about them, but last I heard, they were both doing very well with their lives.

  • SkewedPerception

    I consider someone who doesn't want to have kids because they don't want the responsibility far less selfish than someone who has a child to fit in with their peers, lock down a partner, or for some other agenda that often not only has nothing to do with the child's well-being but goes against it.

  • Eniena

    Funny how every time a believer in Jesus brings up biblical verses they always neglect that one very passage in Matthew 19:12 where Jesus said it is perfectly acceptable for people to not have children in response to the Pharisees asking him if it was necessary for a man to be married.

    Don't believe me? Here's multiple versions of that verse all of which, no matter what, all bluntly talk about people who have voluntarily chosen never to have children to better spread the word of god.

    http://biblehub.com/matthew/19-12.htm

    And speaking of Jesus, he never had kids. Ironic, huh? The attributed founder of the most influential religion in the world never had kids. Neither did the apostles such as Peter and Paul if the Bible is to be believed.

    In fact many believers since Jesus have never reproduced children such as C.S. Lewis and Saint Francis of Assisi.

    Do not buy into this pronatalist propaganda. It is perfectly acceptable not to have children ESPECIALLY if you do so to help others already here.

    • The Fulton of West Sheen St.

      There is a difference between no having children for the Glory of the Kingdom (Jesus, C.S. Lewis, Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton, Father Barron, Mother Theresa, Therese of Lisieux, etc...) and not having children for the glory of yourself.

      Eniena
      It's perfectly acceptable not to have children ESPECIALLY if you do so to help others already here whether or not you are driven by religion. That's not living a sad life at all but one which has supreme merit.

      Not especially, but ONLY! If your desire to [not have children] is grounded in a selfish disordered desire than that will carry over into the rest of your life.

      Your desire to not have children must be grounded in a greater love. But you will find that there is very little love that is greater than that of a parent for a child.

      We are all called to be mothers and fathers even if you do not have biological children. To go against your paternal nature is at your own detriment.

      Couldn't we all do with a little more authentic love in this world, to deal with all of the pain and sorrow it has to offer?

      • Guest

        If people actually loved children they wouldn't give birth to them.

      • Eniena

        What paternal nature? I have none. I dislike children immensely and have no desire at all to parent any. I'm not parent material. Asking me to have any Jefferey Dahmer to be a babysitter.

  • Forbidden Fruit

    Wow, with articles like this it's no wonder child-free people feel persecuted and judged.

    Unwanted children do not have bright futures. Kids are more intuitive than people give them credit for. There is no hiding the resentfulness and misery of child-rearing if you never wanted kids to begin with. How is that fair to the innocent child?

    Parenting is fulfilling but incredibly stressful. Not everyone is cut out to handle that level of stress. Urging them to "do it anyway" is terribly irresponsible, as you're not factoring in the child's quality of life. What happens when the parent abuses, neglects or even kills their child because the stress was too much? That happens everyday around the world.

    You don't want to fund social welfare programs yet encourage impoverished people to have kids they can't afford because "abortion bad". The social and economic cost of unwanted children is immense. Somebody's got to foot the bill. Reproducing should be viewed as an immense responsibility, not an innate right or duty.

    And stop with the 'happiness wars' already. Some people are perfectly happy having kids; others are perfectly happy without them. Neither lifestyle is inherently better than the other. My decision to remain child-free harms absolutely no one whereas bad parenting harms everyone.

    Painting your lifestyle as morally superior makes you a bigot. Stop worrying about what other people do and focus on your own spiritual journey. Let God do the judging. You aren't him.

  • Dave Cardboard

    Oh well if fewer people have children the 1 in 50 paedophile catholic priests will have nobody to touch sexually. What will happen to the catholic church? They might end up having to have sex with each other.

  • Laura Jones

    If your life is sad because you don't have children, your life is just sad. My life is happy without children because it is a happy life. Children do not make your life, they may add to it or ruin it. It's everyone's personal choice and no one way or the other is intrinsically good or bad.

  • KateDSweet

    I can most certainly assure you, Father, that I am neither sad nor unfulfilled. I have made the conscious decision to empower myself as a woman and focus on my career while forgoing bearing children of my own. Do I ever want children? Maybe. Of course with 2.2 billion children in this world, there are plenty of unwanted leftovers up for grabs! No need for my contribution. Bright side: no worries about abortion!

  • blahblahmama

    Choosing to not have children doesnt make you sad. People can find the meaning of life without popping out screaming dependents

  • DCHeatFan

    Actually, my life is all about me. That's why it's my life. You had a pretty good argument until you brought God into the equation. Not all of us still believe in fairy tales.

  • tallulah13

    I didn't have children for many reasons: I am not married, I don't make enough money, I have a lot of genetic health issues, and most importantly, I don't want to be a mother. And I'm not sad. It was the right choice for me.

    There is nothing more selfish than having children because of cultural expectations. It's not fair to anybody, especially the children I would guess that the (childless) author regrets his own choice, and feels compelled to judge based on his own decision.

  • Al Gored

    I am glad that more people are not having children. I am not sure that the world is in any danger of running out of people. It is a shame that so many people have no food, no drinking water, no shelter, no medical care, and no future, other than dying in poverty. I am a baby boomer, and what good did the "post World War 2" baby boom do? More people equals, well, what again? More stuff ? More money? More television shows ? Or am I just selfish ? If we miss the ten billion mark, will that mean that Greenland will not be astro- turfed ? Please, please explain to me where this "birth dearth" means the end of humanity. Can we make up another crisis, please ?

  • Rachel

    My life is hardly sad. Being childfree meant I could focus on my education (I have two graduate degrees) and career, while traveling the world (36 countries and counting). Being childfree gave me a strong sense of self, as I never had to surrender my identity. Being childfree means I can save for retirement and enjoy my life, full of friends, good health, and all the free time to pursue my interests. Sad is being stuck in a life I know I would hate. Thank goodness I life in a time and place in which I have options.

  • Jacquelyn Caroline Williams

    A lot of college students such as myself choose to remain childfree due to reasons such as the serious concerns of overpopulation and dwindling resources, mental health issues or abusive childhoods that cause us to question our ability to become parents, a desire to devote ourselves to a humanitarian cause that would make parenting/ childraising difficult or impossible to achieve, a desire to improve ourselves as individuals and educate ourselves about the issues around us, infertility, genetic issues that could be inherited, inability to find a stable partner, desire to explore the world, lack of financial resources to raise a child, etc. I personally feel that for many of the above, and some further undisclosed reasons, that I cannot in good conscience, seek to produce offspring at this time or in the future.

  • StellaTex

    HAHAHAHAHA.

    The jig is up, dudes. Keep trying to put women back into that old box, though. We ain't going.

  • Rachel

    My childfree life ROCKS. I answer to nobody, live life on my own terms, and love every precious minute. There is nothing sad about my lifestyle. It is wonderful. I am intelligent, educated, and well-traveled. I am not held hostage to diapers and feedings.

  • Rachel

    Here's a question: why do people care if the childfree don't reproduce? You act as if I have wronged the entire human race. Trust me, I have done it a favour by not passing along my genes.

  • susan

    I'm not slamming Cathoics here, but the man who chose to be in the Preisthood (and thereby chose to be childless) thinks it's sad that some of us have chosen a childless existence?

    I am an "infertile Myrtle" and I've been so since my early 20s, but I never wanted children anyway. I don't have it in me to be a parent. My husband knew this about me when we met. My best fiend whom I've known since we were 5 is a mom and yet we remain best friends. I adore her kids (and her husband) and yet despite my not achieving mommy status, we remain best friends. Imagine that!

    I love my husband deeply. My brother is a terrific guy. My parents are supportive (like John Mellencamp sings, "My family and friends are the best things I've known"). I've got a great career going.

    Excatly which "cold space" have I "sovereignly choose"? Exactly how is my life "sad"?

  • MikeT76

    Kids are a pain.

  • Suizou Suizou

    Hilarious! Funny stuff coming from a a guy who's dedicated his life to a paedophilic cult. Thanks for the chuckle!

    • susan

      Now wait a minute! I'm not much of a believer and I also disagree with him on his views on childlessness. But I think it's unfair to stereotype him with something so terrible. Just because some priests were peodphiles doesn't mean he is.

  • SkewedPerception

    i get so tired of willful childlessness being automatically associated with selfishness. Some of the most selfish people I've ever known are parents. Not everyone becomes a better person for having procreated. If they did, child abuse would not exist.

  • love williams

    When I read articles about "people" not having kids or getting married, the article is always about white women not having kids. Pure and simple. These articles are sexist and racist propaganda and should be called out as such every time you see them pop up. The writer is a member of an organization that has a history of misogyny and raping little boys and covering it up, and when found out, having to pay out massive settlement amounts to the victims and families. So the writer is in no position to judge anyone at all, ever.

  • Rippy

    I'm sorry to make mention of this, I'm the breadwinner in my household, i can't afford to miss a day of work, I almost did this August when my fiance went into the hospital. I hate to point this out, but I'm female and I work and its my life! I will not take a months rest to nurse or take care of a pathetic baby when I can be earning money to pay bills and rent, I have to cover two people, a third would be a drag on myself. I can't afford a medical problem if the baby gets sick or other issues like educational problems. Unless you can come up with away to pay my bills, than go right ahead. I'm continuing to be a Childless because it is far safer

  • bre

    You don't want me having kids. Though I am fine with people with disabilities having kids as long as they can take care of them properly, I am mildly autistic and struggle with executive functioning, sensory overload, disorganization, and basically managing my life so that stuff doesn't come tumbling into a crap storm. I also experience fairly severe mood swings, including depression and anger that scare me. Having a child would make life ten times harder for my husband and I. Plus, pregnancy brings hormone-induced mood swings. With my level of depression that I sometimes experience, and the fact that you can't take antidepressants during pregnancy, I worry that I might end up in the hospital, or even in the morgue from suicide. I am grateful that we live in a time where women don't have to have children. I am fulfilled by my career, my husband, my dog, and the occasional visit to see nieces, nephews, and now, great-nieces and great-nephews. I can also adopt or foster an older child in the future if I feel I am ready for that. I get that in certain religions, having children is a big deal and considered a blessing. However, I believe children are only a blessing when they have parents that are able to properly care for them. It takes parents raising a child right and teaching them skills for them to grow up and make a positive difference in this world. There are many people today that struggle with things that make it harder for them to take care of their children and raise them properly. It is seen in the behavioral issues of kids. Please don't consider my life to be less because I am choosing what is best for me and my future children (not to have any). My life is very full, rich, fast-paced and interesting. It is not sad.

    • Will

      You are making the right decision. Children are tough and require a great deal of vigilance especially when they are young. It's surprising to me that a priest (who are typically celibate) would write such an article. With over 7 billion humans in the world today, some not having children is just fine. Mandating children was a good rule for the early Roman empire, and useful for out breeding competing religions. That said, I have children and love them more than anything, but it's a personal decision.

  • Meri Da

    bloody hell you idiot. that be fruit full/multiply thing is OBSOLETE OLD TESTAMENT!!

    WHAT ABOUT JESUS EH? he actually WARNS AGAINST having children in the last days on TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS!!!!!! he says the last days START in HIS TIME & he finishes nicely by saying to actually PITY those with little ones. (matt/luke words in RED baby....yuppers....in RED!!!!) not wanting children is a GOD/SON OF GOD (literally) GIVEN GIFT!!!!

    jesus never had any bio kids either.

    dont even get me started on paul, the original sherlock holmes if you will (complete with a doctor sidekick saint luke LOL), & him sneering at anyone who has sex or kids & how he blesses the unmarried/virgins/no kids...better in his eyes!

    oh & in the quran, allah gives kids to SOME people but NOT to others.

    you morons dont even know your own books!

  • JRL

    Ha - he chose to be childless too!!! He must feel "rather sad" about his choice.

  • Charles Joseph

    Of course this piece of excrement is written by a bishop of the catholic church lol. Kids are horrible. Religion is poison. Live child free and god free and be free.

  • Mark Sheppard

    Ridiculous

  • Miranda Moore

    If you are so for having children, why don't you have children yourself?

  • Lauraaa

    You're a moron. You hide under your umbrella of ignorance hoping your don't get wet. First of all, it is about me. I think for myself, make choices for myself, like vanilla cake over chocolate, write over paint, live childfree vs populating the earth with more ungrateful brats. If not, why don't we all just commit suicide because we are essentially unalive already. Screw the person passionate about curing cancer. Who cares! Just pop out kids and get fat old and die (preferably from the cancer you never cured). Secondly, you're saying that it doesn't matter if you don't believe/want/support a CHOICE, I am a dictator and telling you to adhere. I could turn this around and say, "Isis doesn't think life is about you. Isis wants you to join Isis. Period." I bet you wouldn't be too excited about joining Isis.

  • Chris Wishy Wichmann

    let life flourish? the best thing you can do is not have children on this very much overpopulated Earth. Let life flourish by not consuming it...

  • Peter A.

    I realise that I am very late to the party here, but I don't think that I have read a more frivolous, condescending, offensive and presumptuous article in... well, quite some time, that's for sure. I also found it odd that the writer discusses the choice that women make to remain childless, but what about men who opt for the same thing? You know, like me. It takes TWO people to make a decision like this, not one.

    Speaking for myself, the reasons I decided to not pursue a family were many, and they were very good reasons too. It was not because I was "selfish" or "individualistic", and it's utterly ridiculous to just presume this. Not everyone can - or should - become a parent, there being many of us who simply do not have the temperament or ability to undertake what is, after all, a crushingly burdensome lifelong responsibility.

  • Tiefer Alt

    I'm sorry, I think this is a pile of nonsense.

    I particularly disagree that people need children in order to stop being self-centered. If children are someone's only ticket out of selfishness, if they do not reach this point until they are old enough that they are having children, something is extremely, extremely wrong with them.

  • stellabystarlite

    Why on earth is it considered a virtue to have children? The reasons people HAVE children are just as selfish, or more, than the reasons of those who decide not to have them. "*I* want to have the experience of raising a child. *I* want to carry on *my* family line." Never "does this world really need more people? Is it environmentally sound? Is the world as it is, and as it might be within the next 80 or so years, a good place to raise another human?" No, it's "I want someone who looks like me. And also, they're cute." Just because it involves self-sacrifice does NOT make it an inherently virtuous choice to have a kid. It's just that, a choice. A decision you make, usually because you feel it will better your own life experience, not necessarily because you think it would be great if another human being existed. If I choose not to raise a family of Rhesus monkeys because I don't want to handle that responsibility, would you call me lazy or selfish? I sure hope not, because as I see it, it's another personal decision that should not affect anyone else. If you do want to raise those monkeys, good for you but no thanks for me. No, it is not our biological destiny. We don't owe a world that's already over-crowded with humans to keep up the replacement rate or to exponentially increase the amount of us. Just stop.

  • Perla K Silva

    but why does it worry or bother you? if they are happy let them be. what is it they are doing wrong? but the pursuit of happiness? to you, this might be sad... to them might bring joy.

    besides your beliefs (which might not be everyone's) there are no other objections on this matter why dwell on something that doesnt involve you in the slightest?

    • Chrisx2ra

      Perla, one could ask the very same questions of you, concerning your response to Bishop Barron, as you have asked of him concerning his response to couples who choose to be childless. (E.g., why does Father Barron's analysis worry or bother you, etc?)

      You asked why someone should comment on a matter when his comments are informed by his beliefs. If one's comments aren't based on what one believes to be true, on what should they be based?
      I disagree that we shouldn't be concerned because this issue doesn't involve anyone other than the childless couples. If you are concerned about the human flourishing of others and believe that self sacrifice and willingness to forego pleasure and ease for a higher purpose are important for true human flourishing, then you have a basis for concern about the rise of childlessness among couples. In addition, as the article pointed out, this obviously has implications for the rest of society.