Be fruitful and multiply
Genesis 1.28 goes on to command that the Earth be subdued and to give dominion over living things.
Where has that led us? To an astonishing destruction of nature and a frighteningly rapid change of our global climate. So much for the Bible-waving Trump (‘This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop.’) and the biblically reassuring James Mountain ‘Jim’ Inhofe (‘cold and heat and summer and winter shall not cease’, Gen.8.22), and so much for the deceitful assertion that temperature had reached a plateau.
There has been too much subduing and too much multiplying. Are we, now 7,400 million, any better or happier than the ancients in their far emptier world? It’s not clear if there is an absolute limit to human numbers – we could all live in one endless metropolis, nutrients synthesised, dimly recalling the freer, more natural world vanquished by folly. But human effects are already well beyond the capacity of our poor subdued planet. There may be no way of living at all.
The uncompensated interventions of hygiene and medicine enabled the survival of large families (in 1850 we were about 1,200 million). We have too slowly adapted to this, and increasing longevity adds further to numbers. The total burden, population multiplied by the consequences of demand for the damaging and dubious comforts of developed consumerism, is crucial to climate and environment.
But also very important is how the balance of population is changing. England, for example, has had large influxes in the past three generations, requiring communities to adjust at a pace that many have found unwelcome, with resulting social difficulty and problems of identity on both sides.
Climate change is already altering conditions in many places, and new refugees are created even though in many cases local solutions could be achieved with help. What is the big picture from our feckless multiplying?
The global youthfulness pushes growth (Index mundi gives the 2014 median age as 30, with 26 percent under 15). By mid-century Muslims are likely to be near overtaking Christians as the largest single religious group. The irreligious will probably decline as a proportion (Pew Res. Center estimates down from 16 percent to 13 percent).
Currently top of the global table for fertility is Niger – poor, Muslim and African, it is typical of the driving characteristics that link with conflict, ignorance and the subjugation of women.
The fast growing states seem rather dreadful places. For example, Nigeria has the redoubled curse of fierce religious division and of oil wealth that impoverishes many.
Indonesia destroys rain forest for palm oil, is horrid in New Guinea, and incidentally is home to huge peat fires emitting carbon.
Bangladesh, with wretched quality of life and vulnerable to sea level rise, is most known for the atheists hacked to death.
Religion, like nationality, is a characteristic given at birth, the last resort for self-worth when there is no achievement or other merit. And God, so very heterosexual, surely wants there to be more faithful.
Outnumbering the enemy requires only a minimal biological equipment, everyone can and should contribute, divine reward due. (Family Studies, an IFS blog, shows national rates of fertility roughly doubling from low to high religiosity).
There have been faith groups of restrained reproduction – Cathars and Shakers, oddly admirable and very rare exceptions to the rule. No condoms for Catholics or anyone else who can do it for Him.
The godly USA is a fine place for bad and batty beliefs. The Hutterites secured themselves by producing ten children per woman, and the Mormons ensure that Utah tops the contiguous states for birth rate (and, for a laugh, there’s the Quiverfull movement – Trollope when Malthus is needed).
What about the irreligious? We increase in number partly by lost faith, mostly of enlightened Christians. But our reproduction rate is low and this relates with education in the West and age in Asia. Excluding the rabbit option, what, in addition to exposing religious nonsense and harm, can we do about the increasing imbalance?
Europe and some other places may become more secular but with the problem of large and assertive faith communities resistant to merging in. Firmly embedding the secular principle would be wise (not wholly reliable – USA, but generally helpful – Singapore).
Globally we can try to promote education, so wisely hated by all fundamentalists (Boko Haram is exemplary). If wealth were better spread (remember Oxfam’s bus load of 85 super-rich equalling the poor half of the world) that would provide quality in life and reduce fertility.
Specific measures can encourage smaller families – support for women, open discussion, alternative forms of status, popular models, practical inducements. Above all, contraception – now cheap and easy – should be widely enabled, and every aid programme should include it as intrinsic to the package (lobby them!).
It is important that we, the irreligious, should be recognised as decent, helpful folk, pleasant enough to join. If science achieves a solution to our crises of climate, environment and sustainability, perhaps some of that glow will endorse the rational. Maintaining hope will help, and a vision of a better world for all that can be achieved by combining evidence with sense. A bit simple, but what else have we got?