Counsel of despair

  • April 11, 2008

{mosimage}The dictionary defines misanthropy as “hatred or mistrust of humankind.” Over the last few months there has been an awful lot of that going around.

This attitude has displayed itself in increased chattering in the media (where else?) that responsible global citizens should refrain from reproducing in order to do their bit to save the environment. One less mouth to feed, or in contemporary terms, one less carbon footprint to mar planet Earth.

And so we see well-meaning young couples sterilizing themselves to guarantee they will never issue progeny to be a blight upon the Earth. One young British woman, Toni Vernelli, got herself sterilized at age 27; her boyfriend at the time (whom she met at an animal rights demonstration) gave her a card saying “Congratulations.”

The couple, Toni and Ed, are now married and apparently living happily ever after.  As Toni Vernelli told the Daily Mail newspaper: “We feel we can have one long-haul flight a year, as we are vegan and childless, thereby greatly reducing our carbon footprint and combatting over-population.”

Such reasoning is seductive in its simplicity. People eat too much, consume too much, breathe too much and waste too much. So let’s just stop them from coming into the world. In fact, followed to its logical, if absurd, conclusion, we have an argument for annihilating the human race.

These are not new arguments, of course. English economist Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) in his famous essay, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” predicted that human population growth would eventually outstrip the ability of the Earth’s resources to feed humanity. The 20th-century Green Revolution in agriculture proved Malthus wrong, but it hasn’t stopped his thesis from being resurrected periodically to help grind one axe or another.

Now people can decide not to have children for a variety of legitimate reasons. But population growth is not a simple game of numbers. In fact, humanity’s hyper-consumption, fed by rapid technological change and disregard for the cost, is the root cause of the environmental crisis we face today — not overpopulation.

But should we conclude that humanity is not only guilty, but irredeemable? Is the only just solution to slowly and surely rid the planet of human beings?

Christians shudder at the sheer despair underlying this notion. For Christians, human beings have a dignity and value inherent simply in being. “God saw that it was good,” we remember from the Genesis story of creation. In our tradition, we recall when our ancestors struggled with our sinfulness and pondered whether the best solution would be to simply put an end to the human race. But, as the Old Testament relates, God — when faced with the temptation to wipe out His creation and start over again — always draws back. In fact, so in love was God with humanity that He allowed His only Son to become human and die on the cross to redeem us.

If God is not ready to give up on us, why should we be so quick to condemn the human race?

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