Catholic teaching and overpopulation

One anti-Catholic sentiment I’ve heard a lot is the notion that the Catholic teaching of openness to life leads to big families, which leads to overpopulation, which leads to starvation, environmental destruction, etc. etc. You’ve heard this argument, I’m sure.

It would seem to be true that if, in theory, every person in the world were Catholic and open to life and people had an average of, say, four children each, that an overpopulation situation would quickly arise.

In one sense this is moot because if it’s God’s will it’s God’s will, but is there a pro-openness to life/big families case that can be made based on population and economic data? Something tells me that actual population patterns don’t play out in perfectly neat patterns like we might predict. I haven’t researched it much so I have no idea (though Jacqueline Kasun’s The War Against Population is going to be by next Amazon purchase).

I’m interested to hear what you guys think. What do you say when you hear someone grousing that Catholic ideas about family are dangerous because they lead to overpopulation?

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14 Responses to “Catholic teaching and overpopulation”
  1. John says:

    1. While world population is still growing, the RATE of growth is slowing markedly, and experts keep revising down the projected point of leveling off.

    2. The developed world’s problem is LACK of population growth. Almost all of Europe is reproducing at below-replacement rate, and America is only barely above it.

    3. The starvation predictions have ALWAYS been utter BS. All countries that have stability, economic freedom and allow farmers to sell their crops at a profit are soon troubled with food surpluses. Remember that until recently the three most populous countries in the world all had socialist policies that discouraged or forbade farmers to make money. The earth can feed a much larger population than we currently have.

    4. The “environmental destruction” and resource depletion fears are also mostly bogus—I could enlarge on this if you like.

    5. The anti-population movements have always been deeply entwined with the “Culture of Death.” The subtext is always that we should cure poverty by eliminating poor people, and cure Third-World woes by eliminating useless brown-skinned people. And, more deeply, the message is anti-human, that people are the problem.

    6. This sort of thinking is deeply “static;” it assumes that problems can’t be solved, and assumes that things will always be as they are. (And since it is prosperous Western white people doing the assuming, there is a ton of self interest in this.)

    7. Anti-population thinking never imagines that people may be a SOLUTION. A Catholic should especially beware of this, since the Church, which is in dubious shape in America and in decline in Europe, is growing like mad in Africa and Latin America. Most of the world’s Catholics are now in the Global South.

  2. Julie says:

    I would direct anyone concerned about overpopulation to these two places…

    Jamie Selkie on Ethics anf Family Size:
    http://selkie.typepad.com/selkie/2006/02/ethics_and_fami.html

    Mark Steyn on population growth: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110007760

    Both are absolutely brilliant.

  3. GLouise says:

    Interesting question.

    Big families are on the cover of “Christianity Today” this month!

    Here’s the link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/008/15.26.html

  4. melanie b says:

    I’m going to go off on a tangent since it seems like the over-population dubunkers have things well in hand.

    One pertainent point I seldom see brought up in these discussions is that the Catholic Church not only encourages large families, it also calls some individuals to forsake having families at all, to live lives of consecrated celibacy.

    How many children from large families go on to become priests, religious brothers or nuns? In St Therese’s family, for example, all the children who survived to adulthood entered convents. Those large faithful Catholic families also tend to be those who encourage their children to consider vocations to religious life.

    In fact, for the Church one of the tragedies of the contraceptive culture has been an decrease in larger families and a tragic shortage of priests and religious.

    Would we be experiencing a vocations crisis now if more Catholics were still having large families? I have heard stories of families with only one son whose mother cried when he said he wanted to be a priest. By contrast, historically parents rejoiced when their younger sons discovered vocations.

    the Church calls all men and women to fatherhood and motherhood, but some of us are called to live this vocation in the spiritual dimension rather than by marriage and children.

    Just some thoughts about a different side of the issue.

  5. Martin says:

    Envoy Magazine had an article a few years ago that dealt with this question some of the other overpopulation myths.

    http://www.envoymagazine.com/backissues/2.3/coverstory.html

  6. Martin says:

    Oh well …. the last bit of that link reads: coverstory.html

  7. SteveG says:

    My own thoughts on this question almost invariably run along the same line as John’s, and in particular point 6 and 7…

    6. This sort of thinking is deeply “static;” it assumes that problems can’t be solved, and assumes that things will always be as they are.

    7. Anti-population thinking never imagines that people may be a SOLUTION. A Catholic should especially beware of this, since the Church, which is in dubious shape in America and in decline in Europe, is growing like mad in Africa and Latin America. Most of the world’s Catholics are now in the Global South.

    I couldn’t have stated my own thoughts any better.

    It seems to me that the greatest ‘natural resource’ we have are human beings themselves. The more the better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Most of these ideas point to the fact that we haven’t seen overpopulation issues SO FAR. Ok, but what if the Catholic Church got its way and everyone got married and had 8 kids? Wouldn’t the world be overrun with people in a few hundred years? The world’s resrouces are bigger than envirofascits say they are, but they’re still finite. Doesn’t that mean that the Church’s position is just irresponsible? just playing devils advocate here.

  9. Kate says:

    “Ok, but what if the Catholic Church got its way and everyone got married and had 8 kids?”

    What makes you think that would be the result of “the Catholic Church [getting] its way?” It seems to me that if all the Catholics out there took seriously the Church’s teachings and viewed married life as a vocation (requiring discernment) there would be 1) a heck of a lot more people hearing the call to religious life (and thus celibacy), 2) fewer people having children (and thus sex) premaritally, so the current trend of having children later would probably continue as young people pursued education and financial stability beforing committing, and 3) judicial use of NFP to space children when the situation warrants. Remembering that not all couples have the same level of fertility, you would not likely see Catholics all breeding like rabbits – it’s obvious from reading papal writings that that isn’t the goal anyway.

    NB: Even prior to the advent of modern birth control, when all of the Christian churches rejected it, it was still true that wealthier nations had lower birth rates, because they tended to marry later and have shorter reproductive lives.

  10. Tracy says:

    We have a daughter form China, so the whole population control issue has been on my mind for several months. I had an interesting email exchange with a dad who has 2 daughters from China and still feels that the one child policy is valid and China basically had no choice but to institute the OCP. It is the darn male preference that has screwed things up. I had several good responses about human ingenuity the slavery of communism etc…, but his outlook was just so pessimistic that his response never came to more then well, that’ll never happen. Oh and if the Catholic Church ‘got it’s way and everyone was Catholic and following the the faith faithfully, we would be in the Garden of Eden ;)

  11. Anonymous says:

    I guess I’ve always believed that overpopulation kind of takes care of itself naturally—natural disasters, famine, disease, war, etc, tend to keep things under control. If I lived in a country experiencing famine and horrible disease, I am quite sure I would feel that God was calling us to seriously consider limiting the number of children we conceived. But living in a country of great wealth and opportunity such as we do, I feel blessed to be able to have a large family and know we can provide food on the table for them every day. God uses Mother Nature to provide a system of checks and balances if things get out of hand!

    • Ray says:

      You seem to be implying that disease and starvation are part of God’s plan. I think his real plan is for all men to live full and healthy and meaningful lives. Controling an exponentially increasing population through birth control (not abortion)is a rational, moral and Godly solution.

  12. Ray says:

    When I look at a graph showing the rate of population growth, it seems obvious that the current trent cannot be sustained. There simply aren’t enough resources. Time for the Church to rethink its position.