When people announce that they do not want to have children, they are often confronted with a statement: but God said “Be fruitful and multiply”. I am pretty sure many childfree Christians were exposed to this problem whether hearing this phrase as a reproach made by someone else or even considering by themselves if their choice is right in the light of their God while remembering only this short part of it.
People who use the phrase “Be fruitful and multiply” to scold or undermine someone else’s reproductive choices always omit its further part. Actually, the exact phrase of Genesis 1:28 reads as follows: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Fill the earth. Subdue it. Have dominion. Sounds familiar?
There seems to be little consensus today regarding when exactly was Genesis written. The Book of Genesis itself does not state it either. Its authorship is arguable. Assuming, however, that Moses was the author, the date of composition for the Book of Genesis would have to be between 1446 B.C. (the date of the Exodus) and 1406 B.C. (the death of Moses), according to Bible.org.
The data on world population in 2000 B.C. varies between 27 million and 35 million, while for 1000 B.C. it is estimated to have been about 50 million. Let’s assume that the world population in 1400s when Genesis was written was approximately the same as the current population of California (just above 38 million as of 2012), or Argentina, Algeria, Poland or Sudan, eventually half of the population of today’s Egypt, Germany, or Iran.
According to the United Nations (as of June 13, 2013), current world population of 7.2 billion is projected to reach 8.1 billion in 2025 and 9.6 billion by 2050. These figures are based on the so called “medium variant” projection, which assumes a substantial decline in fertility rates. According to the “high variant” projection, however, the world population in 2050 could be 10.9 billion.
When the world population was around 40 million, the calling “be fruitful and multiply” could not have done much harm and was even justified. However, using the phrase in today’s planet that carries over 7 billion souls and intentionally leaving the rest of it omitted, prevents the person on the receiving end from realizing that this part of God’s plan (whether you believe in God or not) has been exceeded by way too much. The world is overpopulated and humans have too much dominion over the other creatures and their environments. If anything, the complete phrase should lead people to ponder whether they have overachieved this plan and need to modify their behaviors to sustain life on the planet for many future years.
As of 2013, we face the problems of deforestation, CO2 emissions, global warming, unsustainable agriculture, water and air pollution, resource depletion, species extinction, and other serious environmental issues resulting from overpopulation and environmentally irresponsible behavior.
There is also a personal level to this problem: following the calling with its second part omitted may make some people unhappy – these people that did not want to have child, but gave in to the peer pressure of the “be fruitful and multiply” manipulative advocates. On the global level, however, it means a further serious devastation of the already devastated environment.
When Americans hear “overpopulation” in relation to “environmental problems”, they point their blaming fingers at the developing countries, especially African ones, where the birth rates are higher. Very few of them would consider that in their kid-obsessed country fewer, but extremely spoiled kids do more harm to the environment than a larger number of African children raised in modest conditions. In child-worshiping America people buy tons of plastic toys, disposable diapers, use a lot of fuel to drive the kids in monster-size SUVs, waste the food their fussy kid does not eat, buy brand new clothing, while in developing countries there is little waste, kids have to be creative in inventing their toys and ways of playing, they recycle clothes, walk, do not waste food and are still happy and respectful. This does not mean that the birth rate should continue being this high, but it is not only the developing world with multiple children per couple that is to blame for environmental problems. Child-related overconsumption in America is worse in this regard.
Today, instead of “be fruitful and multiply”, the calling for all, Christians or not, should be: Be responsible and use birth control, stop cutting down rainforests, lower CO2 emissions, stop mass scale plastic manufacturing, and biodiversity depletion, have respect for the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and for the trees of the Amazon, and for heaven’s sake, stop the kid-related overconsumption. The Earth is filled to the limits, subdued way too much, and human dominion has done a lot of harm.