Come on. Let's face the real issues instead of trying to let ourselves off the hook
Last week, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York mused out loud about whether it is okay to have children.
“The lives of children are going to be very difficult,” she said. “And it does lead young people, I think, to have a legitimate question: Is it okay to have children?” she asked.
I feel a little bit like Steve Carell in the new Pepsi commercial when I hear that. Is it okay to have children? “Are puppies okay? Is a shooting star okay? Is the laughter of a small child okay?”
Having children is more than okay. It’s the answer to what ails us. Why?
First of all, the question isn’t really about “having children.” It’s about having Alexandrias … or George Baileys. Or Normans.
The movie It’s a Wonderful Life is not meant to be about abortion. But as many have noted, it kind of is. The premise of the movie is that George Bailey gets to see the way his city of Bedford Falls would have looked if he had never been born.
How did it look? Instead of a quiet, family-centered town, it became Pottersville — a raucous, racy, hard-drinking place where the local taxi driver has a broken marriage, there is gun violence on the streets, and the loneliest person in town is the librarian.
In other words, it looked much like America today. Did we abort the George Bailey who would have made our own society more human?
It’s a good thing Norman Borlaug wasn’t aborted. There used to be mass famines and worries that the world’s food supply was running out, before he revolutionized agriculture and saved a billion lives.
Will we abort the Norman Borlaug who can solve the environmental problems we worry about today?
“Strange, isn’t it?” asks Clarence in the movie. “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
Second, the most important problem we face is a deficit of people, not a surplus.
I mentioned before a startling study published November 8 in The Lancet medical journal that followed demographic trends worldwide since 1950. It found that we are having so few children that half the world’s populations are disappearing.
“It’s a surprise even to people like myself,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, who worked on the study. “In a generation, the issue’s not going to be about population growth. It’s going to be about population decline or relaxing immigration policies.”
Japan is already discovering how a lack of population can hurt an economy. We’re next.
Third, children help us see — and improve — the future.
After she asked if it was okay to have children, Ocasio-Cortez said something telling. “Even if you don’t have kids, there are still children here, and we have a moral obligation … to leave a better world for them.”
Here, she is right. Children are a great motivator. In fact, they transform the way we look at the world.
People who have no children may naturally care more about the present — what impacts me right now — than the future. It is hard to care about a school system that doesn’t affect you, an economy that is good for now, or even the environment, if you don’t have children.
But when people have children their whole outlook changes. They start to pay attention to the future in a whole new way.
Fourth, it is a big cop-out to see “fewer people” as a viable solution to environmental problems.
Think of what we are saying when we argue that to save the environment we need fewer children. We are saying that people are an ugly imposition on the world. And we are assuming people will do nothing but harm the environment.
In fact, this lets us off the hook, like saying: “Let’s not change the way we live — let’s just deny others the chance to live.”
As Pope Francis put it in Laudato Si: “Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate.” But “to blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”
Which brings us to a fifth and final reason to have children. They are beautiful, infinitely lovable, and immeasurably valuable.
Children help us see the world through new eyes filled with wonder. They help us see ourselves through new eyes. They, in fact, help us see God through new eyes — because each of them is made in his image and likeness.
“To love another person is to see the face of God,” goes the line from the musical Les Miserables. That is absolutely true.
Seeing others as a threat — avoiding them, fearing them, aborting them — makes our hearts grow small and mean and decreases our capacity to love.
Welcoming others, making room for them and cherishing them, makes our heart grow larger and our souls grow deeper.