Do we need more reasons not to have babies?

June 2, 2015

I remember noticing her frantically walking through our yard looking for something—or someone. Opening the front door, I went to her, eager to help. “Did you lose someone?” I asked. She looked about my age, and I was worried maybe she was missing her child.

“Yes! Have you seen her? Normally she’s not gone this long. I’ve called and called, but still no response. She’s white all over, with a black spot on her tail.”

“Oh.” I said, relieved. “From the look on your face, I thought you were missing your child.”

“She is like my child!” she said, intensely, earnestly. “Please let me know if you see her.”

After she left, I prayed with our kids that she would find her cat. And then we had a conversation about what would cause someone to treat a pet like a child. It’s obedient stewardship of God’s creation to love and care for pets. But, it seems increasingly common for couples to forego children, only to treat their dogs and cats like they would their own offspring. In fact, in some towns, pet boutiques are far more common than shops for children; parks are for pets only; and the pressure’s on to keep things quiet and child-free.

Enter Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, a collection of 16 essays by “literary luminaries” who are defensively child-free. The book promo says it “makes a thoughtful and passionate case for why parenthood is not the only path in life, taking our parent-centric, kid-fixated, baby-bump-patrolling culture to task in the process.” Given our increasing obsession with pets in America, our fixation on autonomy, or desire to sever every connection between sex and procreation, it’s almost nonsensical that a group of elite writers would feel the need to defend their decision to forgo babies. And yet, they do.

Where, I wonder, is this parent-centric, kid-fixated world these writers feel so pressured by? Los Angeles? Brooklyn? New York City? Venice Beach? It’s hard to imagine the neighborhoods these award-winning writers occupy being overrun by the “overwhelming cultural pressure of parenthood” their book claims to counter.

Even in our Bible-belty town, I’ve felt out-of-place entering a restaurant, market, or boutique with our four children. And elsewhere, especially while awkwardly guiding our four kids through first-class on our way to coach seats on a crowded airplane, I’ve wished they had t-shirts that reminded people simply, “You were this age once.” I know I’m not alone.

As far back as 2008, the National Marriage Project’s report, “Life Without Children,” warned that America was shifting away from supporting parents in the hard and essential work of raising the next generation. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead wrote,

“We are in the midst of a profound change in American life. Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults. The repercussions of this change are apparent in nearly every domain of American life.”

Last week a story in The Atlantic added more evidence. In “The Childless Millennial,” Olga Khazan summarized findings from the Urban Institute that “today's twenty-something women have been slower to have children than any previous generation.” Far from calling millennials to get with the program and absent any “pressure to parent,” this story said the significant downturn is nothing to worry about.

Having a child and giving yourself to parenting requires a level of self-sacrifice rarely endorsed, let alone imposed, in our day. According to Popenoe and Whitehead,

Indeed, child-rearing values—sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity—seem stale and musty by comparison to the “child-free” values. Nor does the bone-wearying and time-consuming commitments of the child-rearing years comport with a culture of fun and freedom. Indeed, what it takes to raise children is almost the opposite of what popularly defines a satisfying adult life.

Yet for all this change away from children and toward an adult-focused culture, especially in the entertainment arena, the authors of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed are defensive against something—or someone. On some level, it seems as if they feel the need to justify their decision not to have children.

Someone once sacrificed for you

I think their angst points to the metaphysical musing: Why am I here? What am I supposed to do with my life? The practical answer is that you’re here because your parents, in a moment of passion, conceived you. Someone carried you, bore you, nursed you, clothed you, taught you, and hopefully, loved you. No one can completely forget that someone once sacrificed so we could be here. Every person owes their life to someone else. Someone once given life, who refuses the miracle to another, must, at some level, feel the weight of their decision.

This is one of those truths we can’t unlearn. We can deny them, but they persist. They’re the things written on our hearts, not with random evolutionary etchings, but by the One who formed and fashioned us with the ability and the obligation to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28). We cannot escape our witness-bearing conscience that accuses or excuses our every decision (Rom. 2:15).

Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed is a piercing example of people trying to quiet their consciences. I’m not saying that everyone who doesn’t have children has consciously made the decision not to. Many childless men and women long to have children but face circumstances beyond their control. But regardless of our circumstances, we must continue to be a voice for children; for having them and for training them in the fear of the Lord.

We should also pray for the authors of this book, and those who will read it looking for encouragement to stay the self-seeking path. May they come to know the One who said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24).

We need children because we’re selfish

I’ve seen plenty of selfish, shallow, and self-absorbed parents, including the one who stares back at me in the mirror every morning. The childless don’t have a monopoly on those adjectives. People generally don’t have babies because they’re altruistic. A big reason God gives us children is to grow us up. Scripture says children are a blessing. What it doesn’t say is that children will always make you happy or fulfilled. We need children precisely because we are selfish.

The incredible challenges that come with parenting can completely undo you, but as Allan Carlson writes in The Natural Family, it “opens the portals to the good life, to true happiness, even to bliss. . . . Kindness begets kindness, shaping an economy of love. Kindred share all they have, without expecting any return, only to receive more than they could ever have imagined.”

There’s joy you can only know on the other side of selfless sacrifice. Getting people to affirm being selfish, shallow and self-absorbed will never compare.

Editor's Note: ERLC and Focus on the Family are hosting the first ever Evangelicals for Life event next year in Washington DC on January 21-22nd, featuring Russell Moore, Roland Warren, David Platt, Eric Metaxes, Kelly Rosati, Ron Sider and others. 

Candice Watters

Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses blog editor. She is a wife and mom, and author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, and co-author with her husband Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses have four children and are passionate about … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24