Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
There are plenty of controversial teachings in Christianity, but the Golden Rule generally isn’t one of them. Whether Christian or not, the vast majority of people would accept it as a good rule of thumb when deciding how to live among others. It’s ironic, then, that we in the West are deliberately failing to pursue the Golden Rule’s most fundamental expression: having children.
Unless you’re called to celibacy, refusing to have a family is the Platonic ideal of selfishness. And I say that as one of those very same selfish people–I deliberately avoided having children for most of my adult life. I know it didn’t feel selfish at the time, and I’m intimately familiar with how compelling the rationalizations and excuses can be because I used them myself. Nevertheless, here’s the reality about that refusal from someone now standing on the other side of parenthood:
Consider, for a moment, all the unattractive aspects of raising kids–all the reasons you think kids are icky and which inspire you to come up with your more pious rationalizations for not wanting a family in the first place. They’re loud, noisy, and needy. They’re always dribbling from one end or the other. They’ll interrupt your life goals. You won’t have nearly as much time for your career, your causes, your hobbies, and your amusements. You’ll have less disposable income, go on fewer ideal vacations, and generally be much less free to do as thou wilt. Take all those reasons, and add whatever you want to the list (apart from circumstances like severe family trauma resulting in psychological damage, the specifics don’t really matter in the end.)
Now consider that your parents went through pretty much that entire list for you–for the life that you so cherish that you don’t want to give up any of it to share with a family of your own. Now consider that their parents made those same sacrifices, as did their parents before them, all the way back to that day when God first said “Let us make man in our own image” and instructed his new creatures to be fruitful and multiply. Think of all the selfless love that embraced every challenge on your list so that you could be here, reading this blog post.
What, then, does it mean to do unto others as you would have done unto you–as was done unto you? The answer is quite clear–along with what that answer says about those of us who have refused to do so. We may talk a good game about generosity, but if we refuse to be generous even to our own flesh and blood, then we haven’t even cleared level one.
To be sure, this judgment is not made against those like the Apostle Paul whom God calls to celibacy. To them, God has provided other ways to sacrificially love. However, this gift has always been the exception rather than the rule. And it couldn’t possibly be clearer that the gift of celibacy is not the cause of the falling birth & marriage rates in the West. After all, the growing masses of people who refuse family are not being celibate. They’re fornicating. They’re jerking off to porn every night. They’re constantly falling to temptation–the precise situation for which Paul actually commands marriage rather than celibacy.
In the face of the way we were loved by those who came before us, our long list of reasons comes to naught. Whether we admit it or not, the choice we face is this: Do we take the millennia of love that were poured out on us and consume every last drop until it’s gone? Or do we pay it forward by continuing to pass that love along to future generations?
Only one of those choices conforms to the Golden Rule. Choose wisely.
What about those who are single and/or have legitimate fertility issues? Are they also violating the Golden Rule?
Is someone with legitimate fertility issues refusing to have a family? Is someone who is trying hard but unsuccessfully to find a spouse refusing to have a family?
I’ve come across a similar exhortation to apply the Golden Rule very recently. The original questioner was considering whether to forego biological children in favor of adoption due to a 50/50 chance of passing on a debilitating genetic condition. Do you think such a circumstance would warrant caveats when applying the Golden Rule? Does the Golden Rule prevent Christian parents from limiting the number of children they have through (non-abortifacient) birth control or, after several children, sterilization?
Bethany, I wouldn’t put down a hard and fast rule in either of the two situations you asked about. However, I do think the Golden Rule requires considering the real gravity of each before deciding.
When it comes to debilitating genetic conditions, it’s easy to think “I’d rather die than have that condition” so I won’t risk having children who have it. But consider the value that’s found in the lives of those who actually do have them. Many people make that judgment about conditions like Down syndrome when they don’t warrant it at all. I am close with a few people who have conditions that some would put in that category, and I’m very much glad they’re here–so are they. When we start making judgments about which kind of people should never be born, it’s not a good place to be.
As for limiting children, the Golden Rule would require asking whether you’re grateful for your brothers and sisters (or wish you had some)–and providing accordingly to your own children. But there are other facets to consider as well. I’m not going to rule out circumstances in which parents need to either space out their children or find that they are incapable of caring for more. However, there’s a reason barrenness is treated as a curse in the Bible, and there is a real weight to deliberately bringing some measure of it upon oneself. Likewise, sterilization is essentially an amputation, and it should be treated accordingly.
There are wildly varying circumstances out there, and I’m in no position to judge them all–especially having made some poor choices in this regard myself. However, these circumstances should be approached with Godly wisdom concerning the real value of what’s really at stake. In contrast, our modern tendency is to vastly underestimate both the value of children and our ability to cope with hardship. So I suspect that the vast majority of the reasons we decide against children are poor ones.
Historically, Christians (not just Catholics) saw artificial contraception of all types as gravely sinful. The Anglicans were the first to show any openness to this at the Lambeth Conference in 1930. Even that was heavily qualified and downright prudish by contemporary Christian standards.
The Protestant church fathers were against it. I believe Luther categorized it as a sodomitic sin.
It was common to see contracepted sex as treating ones wife like a prostitute since it’s divorcing sex from the natural function. Catholics aren’t the only ones who used natural law as a basis for Biblical exegesis.