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Hedonic Infertility Versus Creational Fruitfulness
The church desperately needs a great reformation and revival of creational truths, and it is important to recognize that when creational truths fail, preserving Christian truths becomes impossible.
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This is the final of a three-part series on marriage this month of our 40th wedding anniversary. The first two articles are “In Praise of Marrying Young” and “Marriage Is Not Christian.” Next time I plan to address “Who Rules the Rulers?”
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The Time cover story “The Childfree Life” (paywall protected) appeared nine years ago, and if an iteration of it appeared today, the appetite for the social malady it documents and bolsters would be even more voracious. The article marshals statistics that the rise in intentional childlessness is “both dramatic and, in the scope of our history, quite sudden.” In the early 70s, 1 in 10 U. S. women was childless. By 2013, the number was down to 1 in 5. The anti-fertility trend has only escalated since. We learn from a 2021 Pew Research poll:
Some 44% of non-parents ages 18 to 49 say it is not too or not at all likely that they will have children someday, an increase of 7 percentage points from the 37% who said the same in a 2018 survey.
But almost no one needs statistics to verify this trend; he simply needs to look around. More women (and men) are having fewer children, or no children at all. The Time article highlights the big switch starting about “1976, when a new vanguard began to question the reproductive imperative.”
The article recounts traditional complaints against intentionally childless women, notably that they’re not fulfilling their calling as the exclusive womb-bearing human (despite the subsequent advent of the category “birthing people,” a concept so poppycockish that only ideologues could have invented it). Humans have an obligation to perpetuate the race, but women somehow get more of the blame than men if they don’t. Or so says Time.
Autonomy Meets Infertility
But heralding “a new female archetype,” the article defends childless women against these charges. For one thing, motherhood is the “hardest job in the world” (with that I agree). Motherhood is expensive. Mothers lose up to $1 million of earning potential. Mothers aren’t sufficiently attentive to overpopulation. Mothers find it difficult to navigate higher education. It shouldn’t surprise us, therefore, that “the more intelligent women are, the less likely they are to become mothers” and “childhood intelligence predict[s] childlessness.” Time’s condescension oozes.
The main problem, however, according to Time, is that children are an impediment to the fulfilled life, where fulfillment is increasingly defined as radical individual autonomy. This is why I refer to this trend as “hedonic infertility.” Hedonism is the philosophy of living life for pleasure. Hedonic infertility is its subset comprised of those women (and men) for whom children are a crimp on the pleasure-consumed life. If you live only for pleasure, children can have no place in your life.
Our broad thinking about life doesn’t just shape our view of human sexuality. Our view of human sexuality shapes the rest of our thinking. Western society’s sexual views and practices over the last few decades haven’t changed so dramatically only because the prominent worldview of our society has changed; our society has changed because its sexual worldview has changed.
This book is about why and how that change came about, how injurious it has been to our culture, and what Christians can do to reverse it. A distinctively Christian strategy for reversing the sexual revolution and its worldview is a restoration of a full-orbed, biblical faith in every aspect of thought and life.
Get the book here.
To the “new female archetypes” of hedonic infertility, the “reproductive imperative” must seem like a splash of ice water to the face in a North Dakota winter. That imperative, which I’ll term “creational fruitfulness,” is one of the constitutional truths of God’s revelation. It’s a norm of the creational cosmos. It’s a part of the cosmic OS. This obvious truth — so obvious one must close his eyes to miss it — seems secondary or avoidable only to a culture committed to the child-free life and hedonic infertility. Nor is this view, this sin, limited to the ungodly world. It festers among even conservative Christians.
I said sin. This is not an adiaphoron, an issue of moral indifference. Employing the pejorative language of the infertile hedonists, marital childbearing is a “reproductive imperative,” not a reproductive option. It is a command woven into the creational, cosmic account:
Then God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
As the hectoring 70s TV commercials for the new national 55-mile-an-hour speed limit once stated: “It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.”
This imperative flows seamlessly from the previous creational days, where the plants and creatures are commanded abundantly to reproduce. Man and woman are no exception. God delights in fruitfulness and fecundity. He wants his living creation to grow, reproduce, and fill the earth. Ours is a proliferant God who demands proliferance of his creatures. God is contra-contraceptive.
This doesn’t mean that the Bible explicitly forbids all forms of contraception. It explicitly permits it in one unique case (1 Corinthians 7:4–6). But the Bible in principle forbids recreational contraception — the commitment to enjoyable intercourse with no interest in fecundity.
The Reproach of Fruitlessness
Since this is a creational norm, we shouldn’t be surprised that childlessness or barrenness was considered a reproach by biblical saints (Genesis 16:2; 29:32). Before Hannah conceived Samuel, her childlessness was such a grief that her prayer for fertility was so fervent that she seemed drunk to the high priest Eli (1 Samuel 1:8–18). Moreover, childlessness is sometimes an act of God’s judgment on the wicked and disobedient; because children are a blessing, God sometimes judges the wicked by closing women’s wombs (Leviticus 20:21; Jeremiah 22:30).
To intentionally create a child-free marriage is a sin, plain and simple. This is not to say that childless marriages are sinful. God opens and closes the womb (Isaiah 66:9), and all childlessness is not an act of God’s judgment, by any means. Nor does the Bible declare that all marriages must produce as many children as possible. When newly married couples ask me how many children they should have, I respond: “Have some.”
Siring and bearing children is a creational imperative and, as a creational imperative, holds even heavier weight than the Mosaic law (Matthew 19:8), which is weighty indeed (Matthew 5:17–20). Intentional barrenness in the postmodern world is almost always a reflection of hedonic infertility, narcissistic self-centeredness rather than submissive God-centeredness.
There are exceptions. Some spouses from families with a genetic history of severe birth defects, or wives who live with certain permanent bodily infirmities that make pregnancy extremely difficult or impossible usually don’t avoid childbearing on the grounds of the radical autonomy of the postmodern world. Even in these extreme cases, however, living in faith is always preferable to living in fear. The ethical bar to avoid the command of Genesis 1 is a high bar indeed.
Get the book here.
Objectives of Marriage
The key question is: what is marriage for? For most of Christian history, the answer has been procreation, the opposite of today’s answer. This has been the position of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. Protestantism, in its partial return to biblical, cosmic, creational marriage, stressed companionship in addition to procreation. Women are not baby machines but a life’s companion sharing not only the husband’s bed but his heart and his very life.
And the fact is, procreation and companionship are two of the three explicit reasons given for marriage in Genesis 1-2:
Procreation: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth” (1:28).
Companionship: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (2:18).
Dominion: “[L]et them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (1:26).
With the advent of secularization launched by the Renaissance and Enlightenment, procreation has gradually dropped out of sight, and marriage is defined almost entirely in terms of companionship, secured by a disposable civil contract and not, as earlier, by an ironclad, sacred covenant. In fact, the term “partner” has been devised as a vague, generic stand-in for any person, married or unmarried, heterosexual or homosexual, temporary or permanent, that becomes one’s close, generally live-in companion (once called “common-law marriage”). Companionship is privileged and procreation is marginalized, if present at all.
Moreover, the dominion mandate has rarely been emphasized at all, whether in the ancient, medieval, or modern church; East or West; and certainly not in contemporary secular culture. Because marriage has been predominantly understood as a Christian institution rather than a creational institution, the dominion or cultural mandate as an indispensable creational norm has been eclipsed or even forgotten. Only with the revival of the creation–fall-redemption paradigm in the Reformational school of Abraham Kuyper and his followers has this omission begun to be rectified.
This failure to grasp, stress, and practice marriage in its comprehensive, creation-biblical meaning has sown alien, procreational seed in the church and culture whose fecund, bitter harvest we’re now reaping.
The old covenant church and the new covenant church, as well as the church throughout subsequent Christian history, has frequently experienced reformations and revivals. Over time the church degenerates into theological error, moral turpitude, and/or existential decrepitude. And the Holy Spirit discharges men (and women) to spur his people back toward a vigorous, robust Christian faith.
The need for reformation and revival in our own time is unique. It’s not so much specific Christian doctrine but, rather, the entire cosmic, created order that is under attack. This is obviously the case with the LGBTQIA+-agenda, but it is equally true of hedonic infertility, increasingly overwhelming our culture, and infecting the church.
The church and culture desperately need a great reformation and revival of creational truths, and it is important to recognize that when creational truths fail, preserving Christian truths (like the gospel of Jesus Christ) becomes impossible.
Yours for creational marriage,
Founder & President, Center for Cultural Leadership
Great Harlot and Great Commission
God's grace in judging apostate Israel and pagan Rome unleashed the Great Commission and the True Israel.
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Adoption is always an option, and the Bible nowhere opposes it but, rather, assumes it. However, adoption is never a substitute for childbearing to those physically capable of producing children.