Case In Point: Why Accepting the Childfree Choice is Still on the Uphill Climb

Last year Grist did a piece on why the childfree had finally gone mainstream.  I had to disagree. While this choice is talked about more than ever before, it’s not hit mainstream acceptance by a long shot.  One big reason? Religion.  This “Happily Childfree” post by a Catholic medical student is a sure reminder of how certain religions will always stand in the way…

Take a moment to read his post (it’s not long.)

Here are just two conservative Christian ways of thinking she talks about that reflect unshakable views of the childfree:

The childfree fear responsibility.

She is criticizing a woman’s comment that gave her and her husband’s reasons for not having children, including overpopulation, wanting time to dedicate to each other” to continue having a deep marriage, wanting “the freedom of being able to do what we want, when we want,” and not wanting the “responsibility of how the child’s life could turn out.”

Do the childfree fear responsibility just because they don’t want the responsibility of raising children? Seems to me knowing what responsibilities you want, don’t want and why is actually, well, very responsible.  It is not about fearing “personal failure;” it is having the responsible, mature wherewithal to know what is best for us and what is not.

We are selfish because we have exclusive concern for our own interests.

Just because we don’t have kids means we are only concerned about our interests? Why is it that church just can’t budge off of the idea that procreation is “the” symbolic” selfless act? How is it that the church (and this guy) fail to see the many ways those who have no children give to their families, loved ones, communities and the world? How can it be so blind not to see how much selfishness there can be in the act of parenthood?

There is a third unshakable view related to the world in general. It doesn’t only come from the conservative Christian community, but from other segments of the population as well:

Overpopulation is a myth.

This guy does math to make the point that even with the current 7 billion, there is 9500 square feet for his family of nine, and asks  why isn’t it as obvious to others as it is to her that there is still plenty of room for more people on the planet.   Room, maybe, but survivability of those growing numbers, and the rest of living creatures and things on the planet? Talk about a limited view.

Now there are population”experts” who would agree that population isn’t the problem, but the more I learn from the whole field of experts, population is indeed the problem, and the consumption that goes with it.

As the saying goes, we’ve come a long way baby, but views like these remind me we have  a ways to go to changing the societal views on parenthood truly being a choice.

Childfree Christians: How do you react to this person’s piece? How does the church view the childfree in your experience? How can stubborn negative views be influenced to truly change?

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70 thoughts on “Case In Point: Why Accepting the Childfree Choice is Still on the Uphill Climb

  1. Yes, I do feel it’s a little bit worse as a christian, but only a little bit (unless you are part of some really weird christian group, which I’m not)
    If other chistians are too pushy, I can always mention that the most important people in chistianity (e.g. saints) actually didn’t have children.
    There are people that never get it though…

  2. In response to his first suggestion that as scripture states to put God before spouse and spouse before children that wanting to focus on your marriage isn’t a reason not to have children…

    In our current culture there seems to be two options when it comes to laying out your relationships with other people. Either you only put yourself first, or you’re a permanant martyr. I hear women say ALL the time “my family comes first” but they mean their spouse and children. Not themselves. They seem to not count themselves in the family. Not only is this normal, it has come to be expected. And to an extent this voluntary martyrdom is celebrated. It is definitely bragged about.

    You can see this in the ongoing debates about breastfeeding and contraception. A large part of me believes that while the pro-public-breastfeeding group are speaking from a good place when they seek to divorce the sexual nature of breasts with feeding their child, when they fully suceed in doing so they will permanantly lessen a women’s status as something other than a vessel soley for reproduction. Same with the contraception and “personhood” arguments. A woman cannot first be a woman and then a wife/mother/whatever. She must first be a mother/future mother before she can even be herself.

    Our current society does not allow people to put themselves first or to focus soley on any relationship that is not centered in parenting. My husband and I know that having children will irrevokable change our relationship, which is one reason that we do not know if we will have children.

  3. Maybe this is just the bias of my own Protestant upbringing (long left behind), but it seems contradictory to me that the Catholic Church would be so critical of being childfree.

    After all, the institution is staffed by men and women who are supposed to be celibate. The most trusted Catholics are therefore people who are childfree by choice. (In some cases you can become celibate AFTER being a parent, but that’s really rare.) Theoretically, in Catholicism being childfree is a wonderful, spiritual calling that God really loves. The Pope is one of the most powerful, revered childfree people on the planet. If it’s okay for him to do it, why not me?

    The idea that Jesus was not married and had no children is a *later* convention added to Christian theology. (Like most aspects of Christian theology, it appeared long after his life and death.) There are no mention of a wife or children in any of the early writings, but that does not mean that there weren’t any. Lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

    But, the important thing to note is that Jesus is often *believed* to have been without children. And, Christians are encouraged to emulate him, so….

    (Theoretically, Jesus could have been infertile. If he did not have children, who’s to say it was fully by choice? He could have been childless or childfree. This gets back to an ongoing “how much human how much divine” question.)

  4. I’m not sure how much influence the Catholic Church has in keeping anyone from being childfree. For example, the Catholic countries of Italy and Spain have some of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Scandinavia, which isn’t Catholic in the first place and whose people aren’t that religious (most Scandinavians only go to church to have their children baptized), has among the highest. Even Catholic countries that do have higher birth rates (France, Ireland) are barely replacing their populations. It’s also an open secret, even among the clergy, that most Catholic couples use birth control.

  5. IMO the conservative religious dogmas which state that sex is “bad” UNLESS procreation is the intent or result aren’t going to change. After all, conservative religions NEED people to reproduce to keep their religion continuing into future generations. Fewer children means fewer future members, and of course that means less money. The ultra-religious leaders will never admit that publicly, but all churches rely on regular financial contributions to maintain their buildings and services. What would happen if all the money was either drastically cut or if it was all gone? The church would face the unthinkable (for the hierarchy and the devoted members); having to close its doors because it no longer had the funds to operate.

    While many people would deny such is the case, I think it’s EXACTLY the reason why religions are so hostile to the childfree community, and why they constantly make false claims about it, like those you cited here. If you thought the post by the Catholic medical student was bad, the statements against the childfree by a Rev. Albert B. Mohler in a 2005 article were much worse, in my view anyway. The title of that was “Deliberate Childlessness; Moral Rebellion With A New Face,” if you want to read it. A warning, though; it’s going to make any CFer “spitting mad.” I’m not CF and this guy’s ignorance made me furious!

    While many may disagree with what I said, I still think it’s a truth that many conservative religious folks will not admit.

  6. Hello Ms. Carroll and all,
    I’m the medical student who posted the original opinion and calculations about square footage. I’m actually a young, single woman.

    I apologize if my tone on my blog was offensive to anyone. Usually my audience is very limited, so I often don’t phrase things carefully. I see a lot of good thought going into the comments above, but a lot of misunderstanding, too, especially about what I believe about marriage and the marital act. It’s hard to discuss so many points, so if anyone is interested, I would be happy to exchange emails. (medicalmatins(a)gmx.com)

    1. Thanks for writing–Would you be willing to write here one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding? You are right, there is a lot of good thought that goes into comments (on this post and others, and to this I say to commenters Thank You!). This blog really tries to be about stimulating and productive discussion and encourage understanding and I would welcome your thoughts on marriage, and those who choose not to have parenthood as part of it. ~Laura

  7. I’m a married, Christian (Protestant) woman, who does not and never has had any desire to have children. I don’t go ‘awww’ when I look at other people’s children, I can’t relate to children, and I have no maternal instinct whatsoever. As far as I am concerned, people become interesting when you can have an intelligent conversation with them about the news of the day. So, shall we say for the sake of argument, 16 years old? If I could adopt a 16 year old, I’d happily become a mother.
    Bearing these facts in mind, I believe that it would be hideously selfish of me to bear a child to whom I couldn’t give all the love my own mother showed me.
    But leaving my reasons for remaining childfree to one side, I have found that all the people who are most critical of my choice are my Christian friends. I’ve talked with those I’m closest to, and after that talk they’ve all agreed to respect my choices, but I still come across the following attitudes:
    ‘Having children is what marriage is all about’ – no, it’s about a life partnership between a man and a woman.
    ‘Having children will strengthen your marriage’ – maybe it would strengthen other people’s, but it would tear me and my husband apart.
    ‘God wants you to have children’ – don’t you think that, if He did, He would give us a desire for it?
    On the other hand, my friends of other religions (and none) are perfectly accepting, even if they don’t understand.
    As Jesus said – ‘There are many rooms in my Father’s house.’ Some of those rooms don’t have kids tearing up the furniture. I want to be in one of those.

  8. For one thing, overpopulation is not a myth. It only took 100 years for the biggest population growth in the history of the world to occur (1.5 billion people in 1900 to 6 billion in 2000). Whether or not all of us could fit into a small land mass is not ultimately the issue; we have to take into account that more people means more usage of the world’s resources: air, water, and land usage for the growth of food. There may come a time when we’ve either done the earth too much damage for it to sustain our population any further, or resources will run low and not everyone will be able to survive on what is available.
    As for the “selfish” claim, I think that some of the reasons people give for having children could also be interpreted as selfish: someone to take care of them later on in life, someone to love them, someone to give them purpose and meaning. I really don’t think it’s fair for either group to accuse the other of being selfish. Each person has to choose how to live their own life.
    It is difficult to be a childfree Christian. Most churches cater to the traditional families; that is, parents with small children living at home. Single people, people without kids, and empty-nesters usually get overlooked. Hopefully someday churches will be more accepting of those Christians who have decided, for whatever reason, not to have kids.

  9. Laura,
    You’re very gracious to thank me. One of the misunderstandings I see is to link my post with religion. Although I’m strongly formed by my faith, my reflections on marriage and parenthood didn’t rely on religion. I used some math (which we can talk about), then quoted some women, then distilled what I understood them to be saying (which we can talk about).

    I mentioned my faith in three caveats about me (a-c below the second quote) and a side comment about the Catholic concept of “vocations.” So, I don’t think my post is evidence that religion stands in the way (though that might be true).

    Do you think this is true?
    -mmatins

    1. mmatins, I do think that the views you write about are the views of conservative Christian faiths. I do not mean to point “you” out personally but the beliefs you write about. And my apologies I somehow read the post as by a guy..I suppose that could be analyzed through the lens of stereotypes–oy. I apologize for that.

  10. Personally, I think the catholic church and other anti-contraception churches are perfectly clear in their doctrine. Basically, it says that “all sexual acts must be open to life,” which of course means that any sex acts must be open to pregnancy and birth. They don’t put it in those specific terms (gee, I wonder why that is), but that is the meaning. Furthermore, it also means that if a couple gets married, that couple is expected to produce children sooner or later, and the church would, no doubt, prefer that it be sooner.

    To me, there’s really no “misunderstanding” about “marriage and the marital act.” Since anti-contraception churches believe that birth control is “bad,” they do not accept the childfree choice as being a valid and responsible choice, or even the DAO (done after one) choice either.

  11. Laura,
    I don’t care about pronouns! 🙂 I agree with you: the view I have is the view of conservative Christian faiths. Do you agree with this: my arguments are not arguments from religion. (I didn’t say “the Pope/Bible says…” or anything about sin or heaven, etc.)

    My thesis is: there are arguments that don’t appeal to religion to disprove overpopulation and demonstrate the inherent procreative aspect of marriage. -mmatins

    1. I do think that religion has a slew of judgments about those with no children by choice, including that it reflects immaturity and selfishness. I can’t say I have ever heard the Pope say it, but sure have read these and others from authorities in different conservative faiths. I don’t disagree that religion is the only arena that wants to disprove overpopulation, but can’t think of any arena outside religion that wants to make people wrong (or fear going to hell, e.g., if you are on birth control at the time of death you will not make it to heaven is one of the craziest in my opinion) when they don’t want to procreate as part of marriage.

      Others with thoughts to her questions?

  12. Laura,
    I can think of two other arenas in addition to religion. (1) Philosophy of all stripes: pre-Christ pagans like Aristotle and Plato, atheist utilitarians, and economists in our country treat marriage as naturally and importantly productive of a community of husband, wife, and children. Without this community, things go economically wrong. (This is an article by Mary Frances Boyle of The Foundry. It’s longish, but I wanted to show a source.)
    (2) Psychology, normal and abnormal. Childplay shows girls creating houses and families while boys frequently play some version of war, protecting a goal or treasure. With little “nuture” and mostly “nature,” children role-play raising and protecting children. If these deep desires are stifled, things go wrong.
    I am saying only: marriage naturally includes uniting love and procreation. -mmatins

    1. I respect your opinion but do disagree that marriage “naturally” includes love and procreation. That is what we have been socially and culturally even biologically led to believe. Pronatalist thought, which originates with power structures in society, including the church, has influences society so much we actually think notions like this are indeed the truth, when in reality, it is either no longer true, or never really was in the first place. Want to know more about this anyone read about the origins of pronatalism–I am dealing with this in y next book too….

    2. Also re your point about childplay, and deep gender, there are also experts who think differently and have lots of evidence to back it up. The work by Cynthia Fine is an example–
      http://livetruebooks.com/2011/05/01/delusions-of-gender/

      This whole book challenges how we think about gender identity and how we’re supposed to think about it when it comes to how we do our lives, including marriage.

      I understand your views, but like on other areas of christian thought that make no kids wrong, there is another side that needs to be heard more from that takes the veil off, and asks us to question what we have been told and what is really true, and most importantly figure out what is true for each of us, and not have to be judged for that.

  13. The bottom line is,”child-free” is a “choice.” As adults, we are permitted to do such things..(make choices for our own lives!) The “justification” people try to impose is intrusive! It never has to be answered because, it’s not owed!

  14. I can’t think of any area other than religion that tries to guilt people who choose NOT to have children either. I have seen a lot of negative judgment from prominent religious leaders, including the Pope, toward individuals and married couples who prefer to be childfree rather than parents.

    Religions that forbid all forms of reliable contraception for their members, making it a “sin” to use it, are primarily the ones who are so critical of the childfree community. So I don’t really believe there are any valid NON-religious arguments that “disprove overpopulation and demonstrate the inherent procreative aspect of marriage.” Maybe I’m wrong on that point, but I’d have to see those arguments first.

  15. Jesus was childfree. The Catholic Church mandates that priests and nuns remain unmarried and childfree. Deacons are not allowed to marry in the Church again if there is a divorce or the spouse dies. If it is good enough for Jesus and the Catholic clergy, the choice to say “no” to those babies should be respected for the laity.

  16. To further add to the point about boys and girls naturally being drawn to different activities, I teach 3 to 5 year olds. Even though they are so young and one might THINK everything kids do at that age is pure, or not influenced by others, I have seen all the subtle ways adults nurture certain behaviors even in young children. Teachers lead girls straight to the dress up area on the 1st day of school! New boys are led to the block area. Adults play rougher, more physical games with the boys. One day, my boss brought a vanity to the class and told the kids it was for the girls. When she left, I didn’t restrict the toy and actually the boys played with the vanity more than the girls! So I can’t believe any of the natural gender role arguments.

  17. Laura,
    That linked review is really interesting. It’s true that young girls girls are over-bombarded with sexual and gender-specific content (even as innocent as Jasmine plates)! Ms. Spitz’s conclusion (‘there is no “right” approach to the challenges of raising young girls’) does not follow; all that follows is girls’ behavior may be altered from what it was in the 50’s, etc. Ms. Spitz’s conclusion follows from a general relativism, not from psychology.
    Laying that aside, I feel we’re at an impasse. Two people cannot come to a conclusion when they don’t agree on the principles at hand. My principle is: humans have an inborn good or purpose which they pursue with their rational nature. I gather you believe: each human is able choose the good he/she pursues, laying aside biology, history, and common opinion. In the final analysis:, for me there is one truth and for you, there are many. Is this accurate? -mmatins

    1. Sorry the link I put in my comment first was not the one I intended to point you toward-here it is (I changed it in the comment too) http://livetruebooks.com/2011/05/01/delusions-of-gender/

      I too believe we are born with inborn good. I do think we here to find our own truths, and there are many to choose from, the story behind Christianity is but one of them. Biology tells us many things, as does history and opinion, and in the end we all choose what we want to believe (whether there is hard evidence behind it or not!).

      To me it is totally ok to not see things the same way, and find that by chewing on things like this together it can expand understanding on both sides, rather than making one wrong and one right~L

  18. mmatins wrote:
    “My principle is: humans have an inborn good or purpose which they pursue with their rational nature.”

    Okay, but it is NOT essential that everyone must produce children when married to be considered good or purposeful. One can be a very good and rational person and still decide to be childfree, for his or her own personal reasons.

  19. Laura, I think I’ve been unclear about “good.” You might think I meant inner good character, or inner mission for the world. I mean neither: I mean happiness. (By “good” I meant final cause.)

    I believe there is only one thing that makes people happy, not many things among which we can choose. In my estimation, everything besides this one happiness wilts and fails to satisfy. Material things, honors, success, feelings, even other people eventually fail to completely fill me.

    Sorry for the metaphysical detour! It’s important to talk about the human purpose: if you, Laura, think our purpose is limited to the goods of this world, then we are at that impasse. I gather we are there, because if you agreed we have an inborn/natural “good” (final cause) you would also hold that not all beliefs are true and not all choices are good. -mmatins

    Susan, the Catholic Church does not teach that spouses who don’t produce children are therefore not good/purposeful. The Church teaches that those who artificially exclude conception are misunderstanding and mistreating marriage. -mmatins

    1. I am not sure how you interpreted what I wrote as that I might believe that purpose comes from the material things in life. Far from it. I am just trying to say that you hold your view of what makes people happy, what inborn good is, etc. It is one view of many (that do not preach materialism as the key to happiness) and just as I don’t judge you for yours, when it comes to choosing not to reproduce, those of us who make that choice do not want to be judged for this. What inspired my post again, was not directed at you personally, but to some views that seem unshakable by many that make it very difficult for the childfree to ever not be judged… it is the need to be right about certain “truths” of the world, one of which is religion, that can prevent this and that causes many wars….

      Others, please add your thoughts!

  20. Thanks, Laura, I’ve just read too many variations of the nonsensical “good women are supposed to have children” theme to let it go unchallenged.

    My CF uncle and his wife had a terrific CF marriage for 27 years, and she was actually a Catholic. However, she knew she didn’t want kids, so she delayed getting married until her age (40+) made the whole “kids or no kids” issue irrelevant. When she met my uncle, she knew he was definitely a keeper. 🙂

    All the CFers in my family, both deceased and living, were/are very good people and their lives had/have a purpose, even though it didn’t/doesn’t mean parenthood.

  21. Mmatins wrote:
    “Susan, the Catholic Church does not teach that spouses who don’t produce children are therefore not good/purposeful. The Church teaches that those who artificially exclude conception are misunderstanding and mistreating marriage. -mmatins”

    To answer your first statement, that’s the impression I got from one of your more recent posts, that “good” meant producing children. That certainly seems to me what the post implied.

    To reply to the second, I don’t think it is any of the church’s business, be it the Catholic church or any other, whether married couples have children or not. That decision, whatever it may be, is an entirely private matter. This is one of the many reasons why I rejected the Catholic church several decades ago, because I found its doctrines concerning sex, women, and reproduction to be oppressive and even abusive. Procreation is NOT the only or primary reason for marriage, no matter what some churches continue to believe.

  22. Laura,
    In your comments, you say that my view is one of many and you respect it and will not judge me for it.

    But in your post, you say it is a “stubborn negative view,” “limited,” “stand[s] in the way,” and “can’t budge off.” Comments before I arrived called me “pushy,” “hostile,” and “bad.”
    Which is your position: is my belief false and to be eradicated, or is it just as respectable as yours? -mmatins

    Susan, I did not say that it was the Church’s concern whether a particular couple has children. The Church’s concern is that they avoid artificial contraception, since this is viewed as a misuse of marriage. Contraception is not the same as deciding not to have a child. (See NFP for more about ways to avoid children without artificial contraception.) -mmatins

  23. I don’t know where Ms. Martins got this information on how a human can survive with only approximately 1000sq ft per person, but I’d LOVE to read that. Every human in Texas… I nearly died laughing. Okay, let’s do it. Put everyone in Texas. Wait, your 1,000 sq feet doesn’t have access to a fresh water supply and the spoil is lacking nutrients for crop growth? Aww… too bad, you said you could do it. What people fail to realize is that all land isn’t an adequate habitat for humans. You can’t say that we have plenty of room to live and count the Sahara desert and Antarctica into that equation as though it were the fertile lands of the midwest. When I hear the argument that the Earth can sustain as many people as we have, all it does is tell me that that person has absolutely no clue as to what one human being requires to sustain themselves. Even societies that utilize only the basics, say the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert, require substantially more land than that per person.

    I received my Master’s in Biology at a university where the program was focused on conservation. It’s widely acknowledged there that we have exceeded our carrying capacity on this planet. Now, some people ask, “How can we have exceeded our carrying capacity if we are all still here!” Again, this comes from a lack of knowing the actual definition of “carrying capacity.” It’s not what it can hold for a moment in time. The carrying capacity is the maximum population size that the environment can sustain INDEFINITELY. We cannot sustain 7 billion people for even the foreseeable future. We have gone into debt on this planet, and there is no way to pay it back before a huge population crash. And, once the population crashes, it will never be able to rebound to what the original carrying capacity of Homo sapiens once was.
    And, some may call it defeatist or even callous for me to say this, but I really don’t care how many kids people have. As far as I can see, the world is done for anyway. So, when the crash does come, it won’t be my kids or grandkids fighting for survival. The fight I’m engaged in is making sure we don’t take every other single species with us. I just want something left after we have done ourselves in.

    Ugh. Being a conservation biologist is depressing.

  24. I don’t think Ms. Martins meant to imply that if every person lived in Texas, that all would have access to fresh water or adequate fields. Martins remark is a space-per-person fact, not a survival fact. My water is brought to me by pipes, my food is trucked in from the farm. Thanks to technology, I don’t need to worry about whether I can independently sustain myself. The answer is that I cannot, I am completely dependent on society functioning properly to survive. And so are most of you. Without people, and plenty of them I might add, we would not enjoy the lifestyles we have today. Less people means a gradually lower standard of living. While it’s hard to imagine this, remember that there are no guarantees about the future. To me, a declining population is not a good thing. It ultimately means that people will need to spend more time and energy meeting their basic needs, and will have less time to develop their unique talents or pursue their interests. I really see having children (this is what this all boils down to after all) as serving humanity’s best interests.

    Kate, I would hope that anyone’s children or grandchildren are more important than an insect or a plant. Or at least as important. What I find depressing is that you value other species more than your own. Why is that?

    Please check out this link, it’s surprising: http://overpopulationisamyth.com/

    1. Interesting link…it is so baffling how there can be such different positions on overpopulation…inspired to dig deeper with different experts again. Did it last year on La Vie and time to do again…

  25. “Be fruitful and multiply.”

    I’ve taken that quote extremely literally, probably more literally than most conservative English-speaking Christians:

    I have actual fruit trees in my front yard. Check. I have multiplied numerous times — I have multiplied myself times one and got me. 1 x 1 = 1. It’s the same equation every time. Check. Where’s the problem?

    Oh wait, maybe the Bible is not meant to be taken word-for-word literally. You don’t say….

  26. This is why I have problems with organized religion. I feel its very judgmental, restrictive, and the list could go on. As long as no one is hurting anyone out there, not impacting, then let people live their lives the way they want. I am so tired of these extreme views perpetuating hate towards people whom don’t follow the life script exactly how one “should”. And I strongly dislike that word “should”. The only appropriate context of that word is it should be eliminated from vocabulary.

  27. Annie, I’ve never seen that link before; it’s really interesting. Good to see the science backing things up, too.

    Laura, thank you for not judging me. I esteem that virtue and try to practice it, too. Now, taking me out of the picture: is my belief false and to be eradicated, or is it as true as yours?

    1. It is as true because it is true for you. A few thoughts: I think we all see life through the window of our own beliefs and attitudes. I become frustrated by the assumptions people make about others whose “window” of how they see the truth is different from theirs. To assume those who have no children by choice fear responsibilty, are selfish and are not doing marriage right is seeing it through the window of one set of beliefs, and these assumptoins just aren’t true. It works the other way too–assumptions made about say conservstive Christians by those with different beliefs. It’s the assumptions–wanting to be right about the other–that prevents mutual understanding and acceptance of differences in life choices. I hope to see the day when we ultimately get there when it comes to the choice to have no children…

  28. Mmatins: Susan, I did not say that it was the Church’s concern whether a particular couple has children. The Church’s concern is that they avoid artificial contraception, since this is viewed as a misuse of marriage. Contraception is not the same as deciding not to have a child. (See NFP for more about ways to avoid children without artificial contraception.) -mmatins

    Obviously, I didn’t go far enough in my previous post, so I’ll go even further. IMO it’s also none of the church’s concern what method couples use to avoid having children, whether it is “artificial contraception” or anything else.

    Since I’m thankfully no longer part of the catholic church, I’m not interested in NFP and have no intention of checking it out. It should also be mentioned that “NFP” stands for Natural Family PLANNING, not natural family prevention. Small wonder that the catholic church approved of THIS, but not any other contraceptive methods that are more reliable in preventing unwanted pregnancy.

  29. How can a belief be true for one person and not true for another? Of course, two people can think different things are true (as when a teacher thinks 2×2=4 while his student thinks it is 6). But finally, one person is correct and one person is erroneous.

    This does not just apply to mathematics. There is an objective truth in every issue–one position is true and applies to everyone regardless of circumstances.

    Ultimately, it is not possible to think otherwise: try. Suppose there is not one truth that everyone is bound by. The result: there can be no good way to live. There are differences in lifestyle, but no abhorrent ways or praiseworthy ways. Does this fit your everyday thoughts? I bet you think there are horrible ways to live life. (Abuse, leprosy, crime, prostitution, poverty, illiteracy, slavery.)

    Do you see what I mean? -mmatins

  30. Annie,

    Obviously, the Texas analogy was a hyberbole. Still, you yourself pointed out that you need pipes to bring you water and land to grow crops. Not to mention, wood or rock to build a home, more land to get other natural resources from to make medicines, hygiene products, build roads, etc… In the world YOU want to live in, you are using way, WAY more than 1000 sq ft per person. I, too, have already seen that website, and find much of the info to be erroneous and/or short-sighted. Do we currently have enough land to grow food for everyone? Yes. But, we have already taken too much from the other life on this planet, and that land will eventually be unusable as well. And, the more land we take, the more gets taken away from other organisms, and the food chain will collapse. Guess what, you need frogs. You don’t realize it, but you do.

    As for your criticism that I value other creatures lives above the human races, then you are correct. I do, indeed. Exactly why should I be beholden to my species more than any other? Because you say so? You also say I should have kids, but I’m not bothered by your criticisms on that front either.

    In the end, I know I’m a good person. People who know me know I’m a good person. And, if God is truly concerned, then I believe he will praise me later down the line. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth.” It seems enough people are concerned with humans, which is why I study and help other organisms. They are the true meek, and I can’t believe in a God who only cares about one of his species.

  31. Mmatins wrote:
    “How can a belief be true for one person and not true for another?”

    Beliefs aren’t facts, that’s how. Just because you believe certain things about the childfree community doesn’t mean those beliefs are the undisputed truth. I certainly don’t share them, and I don’t have to.

    Anti-contraception religions and churches, the catholic church being only ONE of those, have the BELIEF (remember, a belief isn’t a fact) that childfree women and men are “selfish” and “fear responsibility” because the idea that men and women can have sex and NOT procreate is anathema to them. Well, that’s just too bad. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the childfree choice is only a threat to the CHURCH (meaning any church that opposes contraception). That’s it. The choice to be childfree is NOT a threat to mankind as a whole, contrary to what these churches continue to believe and to preach.

  32. Susan, you’re absolutely right: beliefs don’t magically become true when someone holds them.
    You’re also absolutely right in another thing: you know that one party is right on an issue and one is wrong (in you post, you hold that the Church is wrong on the CF issue and you are right). We are in agreement about these two things! -mmatins

    1. Let me try to be clearer…I beg to differ that beliefs can’t become truths…I would not use the word “magically”, but it does happen in the mind. Not for facts we know to be true like I said (e.g., math, or that we physically have two eyes etc) but there are many things that we believe to be true that another person does not. Many people hold it to be a “truth” that Jesus was the son of God, and are willing to die for their religious beliefs. Others believe something totally different. I am just trying to make the point that we can all have beliefs that are so strong we hold them to be “true” when really, they are not, and another belief can equally be held. The disagreement about creationism and evolution is another example. There is plenty of evidence of the latter, but many choose not to believe there is any truth in evolution. Then back to ideas in the post–What many religions believe to be true about the purpose of marriage is an example. What they believe to be true about those who don’t believe that truth is another.

  33. You know, I wonder if in ten or twenty or so years an indisputable connection will be made between women who use oral contraceptives and the (low) number of children that those women choose to have. It is a sad thought that the choice you make today about your posterity might be shaped by years of hormonal contraception’s effects on overall sexual functioning and mood. A woman on the pill has faked her body into believing that she is pregnant, therefore, her body and mind react to unnatural, artificial information. Day in, day out, for years. After all, the pill can’t keep you from getting pregnant while at the same time engendering a desire towards reproduction. It has to shut down the biological drive for children or you would stop takiing the pill. And perhaps for some, that desire cannot ever be rekindled.

    What if the decision to be child free is really an unacknowledged side-effect of oral contraceptives? In other words, what if your desire to be childless was not as much a decision of will, a free choice, but rather a chemically-induced inclination? Do most women who choose to be child-free have a history of hormonal birth control? Would any of you please comment on the possibility that there might be a connection between the pill and the decision to forego children. This is a “big picture” type of comment meant to suggest that this issue is more complex than a simple personal choice. Not to mention the fact that our water supply is utterly polluted with oral contraceptive run-off, but that’s another matter.

    1. I know of a few studies that have looked at hormones of those who don’t want children but don’t come up with anything really…not sure what I think about the hypothesis that those who have a history of hormonal birth control – aka the pill- would be more likely not to want children. It’s like saying the longer I fool my body it’s pregnant the higher the chances I will end up not wanting to actually be pregnant.

      It is possible there is something chemical going on, but if that is the case, it still seems at least historically speaking, it has not been strong enough to override the social pressure to have children. Not until the last couple generations has the social pressure started to noticably lessen and there still is a big ways to go. In my parents’ generation, for example, even if people did not want kids, they had them anyway because the social stigma was so strong.

      Might be an interesting study of chemical make up of different ages of people, comparing those wanted children and had them, and those who didn’t want them and did not.

  34. Mmatins, it’s nice to see that we’re in agreement on two things, but for me, it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about the right of each person to make his or her own decisions rather than allowing a religion or church to make the choices FOR that person.

    It has long been my belief that each person has the right to decide for herself or himself that for whatever reason, she/he doesn’t wish to have children. Moreover, there is NOTHING wrong the childfree choice, so there is no reason for it to be judged negatively by anyone. I have several generations of CFers in my family, and none of US have had any problems with their choice. We do not consider them to be “selfish” or “fearing responsibility” either.

  35. The truth lies in our very biology. Human anatomy is overflowing with evidence. No need to look farther than the natural, objective and enduring law which is expressed in how our physical body is designed and functions. Don’t you see this? It’s so simple that a child could grasp it. Religion and politics aside, there are certain things that are objectively unnatural and the child-free choice is one of them. Our sexuality is beautiful as it is designed, and is designed with limits and with a purpose. There is unspeakable dignity in the way we are made and great care should be taken to protect that dignity.

    1. Our human biology, including our biologically sophisticated cognitive, intellectual and emotional capacities, are the very things that give us the ability to choose whether we want to use our reproductive capacity or not…

  36. Annie, you are saying things that are really making me angry.

    “A woman on the pill has faked her body into believing that she is pregnant…the pill can’t keep you from getting pregnant while at the same time engendering a desire towards reproduction. It has to shut down the biological drive for children or you would stop takiing the pill. And perhaps for some, that desire cannot ever be rekindled.”

    First, that’s an extreme oversimplification of what hormonal contraception does. Second, the “biological drive for children” does not exist for everyone. You could posit that our sexual desires are a biological drive for children…oh, wait, except that doesn’t work for gay women. There’s no science whatsoever to back up your claim. The idea of a “biological clock” or whatever is pure myth based on conjecture and anecdotal evidence at best.

    “there are certain things that are objectively unnatural and the child-free choice is one of them.”

    I don’t think you know what “objectively” means. If you do, then you must realize you are using it incorrectly. If I don’t think it’s unnatural (and I do not) and millions of other people don’t find it unnatural, then it cannot be objectively unnatural.

  37. um, have people forgotten that nuns and monks are childfree by choice? If they are off the hook because their lives are in service to “God”, then doesn’t my career in education count as service for the good of humanity? Plz. These arguments hold no weight as MANY childfree by choice people devote their lives to their community. I wouldn’t call that selfish or irresponsible.

    Annie: I knew I didn’t want children 18 YEARS before I began taking any kind of birth control. Your “theory” of artificial contraception adding to the “unnatural” childfree choice is debunked for many women. Please show the me peer-reviewed, scientific research that backs up this “theory”.

    Have you not raised or bred animals before? Some animals just aren’t good mothers. We bred a specific breed of dog for years and we would occasionally run into horrible mothers. They would have nothing to do with their babies and would even EAT them, squash them, abandon them, etc.

    Have you not read some of the research concerning PPD?

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ask-the-brains-does-postpartum-depression

    Nature has many childfree examples. Unfortunately, animals do not have access to birth control or the higher brain functions to articulate “choice”. When one breeds dogs or any other kind of animal, it is basically rape and the animal has no choice. I’m pretty sure those horrible doggie moms simply did not have it in them to be a parent.

    Sure, the childfree are probably a small percentage of the population (much like homosexuality is), but that does not mean it is “unnatural”.

    1. I wonder how “natural” deciding not to have children might be and what that percentage would be if the social value system called pronatalism (promoted by power structures like the church, government and business) did not exist…

  38. Perhaps we can agree on a distinction between the terms natural and unnatural. Natural, when used as an adjective, means “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind.” Or “of or in agreement with the character or makeup of.”

    Here is the definition of the term unnatural: “contrary to the ordinary course of nature, artificial.”

    These are Meriam-Webster type dictionary definitions, not from a thesaurus nor did I make them up.

    Would you agree that these definitions are reasonable?

  39. Personally, I think if pronatalism didn’t exist, it might be considered more natural to be childfree. The way I see it, the argument that “being childfree is not natural” is a false one.

    This argument is perpetuated by anti-contraception religions and churches who have a vested interest in having women have “as many [children] as God will allow” or something along those lines. They PRESSURE women into having children using biblical quotes to try and make women who don’t want to have children feel unnecessarily guilty about the choice not to reproduce. If that doesn’t work, and some women still choose not to have children, then childfree women are called “unnatural,” “selfish,” etc. because they aren’t towing the pronatalist line.

    I certainly found this to be true within the Catholic church, which is why I rejected it over twenty years ago. I refused (and still do) to allow religious clerics to make my sexual and reproductive choices for me, as it is simply NOT their right to do so. It is MY life, therefore ONLY I get to make the personal choices for it, not anyone else.

  40. Dear all,
    I apologize for not responding with much punctuality! I have an I’m immunopathology exam on Monday and have been spending a great deal of time studying. Afterwards, I don’t think I will be able to return to this debate with the same vim, since the semester is beginning to accelerate more quickly. I am happy to’ve been allowed to speak my thoughts, and learned a lot from your comments. Laura, may I have your permission to reproduce material posted on this page from 1/13/12? -mmatins

    1. Thanks for engaging in the discussion — I think more of it needs to happen so more people understand each other and accept different beliefs and choices. Please visit and comment in the future when you feel inspired to do so~Best of luck on immunopathology exam! Please email me directly at laura@lauracarroll.com for reproduction permission. Thanks~Laura

  41. Late to the dance, but reading through the post and all the exhausting comments reminds me of my favorite quote from a TV show (“All in the Family”) which best describes me, a single male, age 48, retired and childfree, too:

    “Thank god I’m an atheist!” – Mike “Meathead” Stivic

  42. >>Here is the definition of the term unnatural: “contrary to the ordinary course of nature, artificial.”

    So, women who can’t conceive would be considered…?

  43. Annie wrote:
    “Here is the definition of the term unnatural: ‘contrary to the ordinary course of nature, artificial.’ ”

    Which as far as I’m concerned merits nothing more than a big SO WHAT. Is that REALLY your sole argument, that women “should” reproduce because procreation is “natural?” If so, then it’s a very poor argument IMO.

  44. According to my NIV Bible, the sole criteria for being accepted into heaven and eternal life is to ask for forgiveness from God for your sins, and to accept Jesus as your Savior from those sins. There is no mention, much less requirement, of having kids in order to enter into eternity with God, or having a personal relationship with him in this life. If there were, it would be a cruel irony for the many women and men in churches across the world who love God with all their hearts and cannot have children. What do these judgmental people say to their fellow childless believers? Do they call them “unnatural” too? Because by my estimation, God did a LOT of unnatural things in the Bible: talking animals, making the sun stand still, parting the Red Sea, etc. Who are we as humans to judge what is “unnatural” or not? If he chooses not to give the ability to have children to some, and chooses not to give the desire to have children to others, I think it is His choice, and the Bible also clearly says that we are not given to understand all of God’s ways. We humans must understand that the world from our small perspective is not always black and white. There’s a lot of gray, and a lot of things God does that we won’t understand in this life. It’s extremely prideful for some people to think they do, and to feel the need to judge others on their own interpretations of God’s will. I would never push my beliefs onto someone who isn’t interested, and I would hope for the same respect in return.

    People quote the “Be fruitful and multiply” scripture ad nauseum. This was meant in a literal sense in the Old Testament, when the earth did not have the number of Jewish (and later Christian) believers as it has now. From a New Testament standpoint, it is more likely meant in a spiritual sense: to multiply the number of believers in Christ…to introduce those who do not know him to his gospel message. As many have commented, the world is filled to bursting with humans, but many of those have never heard of Jesus.

    I am fortunate to attend a church where the people I have encountered so far have been respectful of my beliefs, even if they don’t understand them or are downright afraid of them. True, it is a church with many family programs, and I do feel left out at many women’s events because I can’t comment on preschool, toilet training, babysitters, and all the rest of what goes into raising a family. However, there are many single men and women who make tremendous contributions to teaching and mentoring young people as well as short and long terms missions programs. These are the people who travel to places most of us would never dare, and risk life and limb to bring medical relief, rebuilding of communities, and education to those sorely in need. I dare any of those judgmental believers to label their CF brothers and sisters selfish because they chose not to have kids in order to minister to those already alive and suffering on this planet.

    Finally, I would like to add that those who assume CF people are selfish for not wanting to have children are so short-sighted, I have no words. Some married couples may not have children because there is a high genetic probability that their child would be born severely deformed or mentally disabled, when they know they may not have the finances or mental and physical strength to care for him or her. There are those who are predisposed to depression or other mental or physical issues where they feel they would not make a good parent, and it would be unfair to the child to bring them up in that type of environment. How many people have children because they are biologically able to produce them, but the child grows up with a parent(s) who are drug addicts, alcoholics, or child abusers? And then the child ends up in foster care, raised by the state? Are these people somehow morally superior according to your “doctrine” than those who, out of a respect for the incredible responsibility of raising a happy, healthy child in a safe environment, decide it is in everyone’s best interest not to become a parent? How about those who have a child out of wedlock, something the church has discouraged from the beginning of time? Are they also morally superior to those who have no children at all? It’s a slippery slope, and I think those who call themselves believers in any faith should stop focusing on the mote in someone else’s eye and take the beam out of their own. There is a LOT of work that needs to be done for our families and friends and neighbors and the earth we call home — people (and animals, also God’s creatures) who need sincere love, encouragement, forgiveness, medical care, financial help, and education…what do you say that we quit judging one another and go out and help them? Many of us childfree will be first in line.

    1. Childfree Christian–thank you so much.
      It is comments like yours that make me optimistic that the uphill climb I speak of has the capacity to level off for more acceptance of different life choices and working together for a better world!
      Love to hear from more CF Christians on this…!

  45. I want to respond to a few things on here in the comments. First, that wanting to be childfree is unnatural. No, it is not, and I’m living proof of it. I am not on birth control, do not use it at all, and have felt ever since I was young that I did not want children. I just never had any desire for them at all, and oftentimes I am rather put off by them. I don’t think they are cute. I would fall apart if I had to raise one. Would you call this unnatural, if you state that the reason women don’t want children is because of hormonal birth control? And like I said, I have been this way as long as I can remember. When I was little, I spent my time playing superhero, teacher, warrior princess, and president; I hated playing mommy, no matter how many dolls you gave me. I actually grew up in a Christian church and was encouraged to like those things, but this “encouragement” just made me feel repressed and terrified because I did not have any desire to live like that. To say that ALL women have a natural desire to have children is absolutely false.

    Also, I wanted to say that I understand why conservative Christians are apprehensive about birth control. I understand that it is not natural. But who says that we can’t use it just because it’s not natural? We eat man-made foods every day (I’m referring to processed foods), and use man-made medicines when we’re sick. We wear synthetic clothing. I don’t see how hormonal birth control (or any birth control, really) is so different. If we left things to be as completely natural as God originally made them to be, then we would have much shorter life spans and our lives wouldn’t be as comfortable. I also understand, however, that conservative Christians believe that the purpose of marriage is for two people to come together and create life, and if that’s what you want, more power to you. I see where you’re coming from. But it is not fair to say that is the best path for everyone. It certainly isn’t for me, and I have very good reasons for it, just as you have very good reasons for living the way you do.

  46. So great to read this article, and the intelligent comments which follow. I am a childfree Christian, and can echo the comments about feeling sidelined at a kid-centric church (and *all* churches near me are kid-centric, alas).

    Recently, a lady from my church came to visit me and grilled me for an hour on why I haven’t got kids. I think she wanted me to “admit” that I desperately wanted them and that I cry into my pillow every night. She went away disappointed, but I was furious at how my private decision should be felt fair game for discussion.

    Well done to all of you who answered the rather patronising, holier-than-thou views of the religious posters. All we can do, fellow cf-ers, is to continue the fight towards equality. Remember, religious people once thought slavery was justified by the Bible, too.

  47. In response to Annie and others:

    I would argue there’s clear evidence that our bodies are NOT actually “designed” by anyone or anything — gods, nature, evolution, whatever. Or, if there’s some sort of design, it is terribly inefficient and haphazard. For example, if the appendix is a product of design, the designer needs to be fired. Here’s a body part whose sole existence seems to be to kill modern humans. Another example: because of the structure of the huma throat and mouth, Homo sapiens is virtually the only species that can choke to death on its food. That’s what I call a bad design.

    The most we can say is that “design” is a philosophical assumption, not a fact.

    As for reproducing: without going into graphic detail, I think it’s clear that there is a LOT of sexual activity that has NO chance of leading to conception. Billions of people have their biological sexual urges fulfilled with sexual activity that simply cannot result in pregnancy. And that’s even without contraception.

    Someone else mentioned choices: Let’s say we are designed. That means we have a brain that’s been designed to make choices. Our brains are part of our well-designed bodies. We have been given this powerful organ in the skull that measures cause and effect and even invents new technology like fire, agriculture, the internet, and birth control. Let’s honor the dignity of the great technologies that our well-designed brains have given us.

  48. Regarding the question someone brought up about whether or not women who are on birth control are less likely to want kids: I am a woman and have never had vaginal sex and have never used birth control, and I don’t want kids. So there you go.

  49. I am very late to this party, but I am a childfree Christian. I don’t need to make a list of reasons that I don’t want children to (hopefully) get other Christians to see why I don’t want them: I have prayed and fasted over this decision, and I have only ever been shown one path – the one without children that I am currently living.

    I would have been content to be chaste and unmarried. People used to tell me that once I found the right man, I would want his children, to which I always replied that if God wanted me married, He would bring me a childfree man. He did so, and when I was praying about the decision to marry, He showed me two paths: one to marriage and one to an unknown life of other possibilities (not including children). I knew then that this was my opportunity to decide which path to take, and God would make the most of either one I chose. I chose to marry, and God has blessed our union in many, many ways, but children will never be one of those “blessings.”

    I don’t believe God makes mistakes when he brings people together, so why did He bring two childfree people together? And when people ask why I am childfree, I should only have to reply, “God has shown me that this is my path.” At this point, I don’t know why I will never have children, but I have no desire to do so and neither does my husband. I think God has spoken very, very loudly on that issue to both of us. I knew from the age of 7 that I wouldn’t have children (and it gave my own mother a lot of time to get used to the idea, so when I told her our decision when I got married, she replied, “I never expected you would have children. You’ve always been clear on that from childhood.”)

    My faith in God’s path for my own life, no matter what that may be, is all I need to be content. I am on the right path for me. I don’t know why yet, but that doesn’t matter as long as the road is leading in the right direction. It is.

  50. I haven’t been to church in so long, I used to be very involved but now it’s been quite a while. However, I still have Christian beliefs. But the thing is, the whole “fruitful and multiply”, while something I respect when others choose to follow this, is not something that I see as relevant in this day and age, it has to be taken historically in the context of the Bible when that was said/written. That is my honest belief. But things like whether or not to procreate, etc., really aren’t at the crux of Christianity anyway, the basic faith has to do with loving one another, showing each other Christian charity, etc. While organized religion can be good in a lot of ways, people also tend to get caught up in the rituals and rules, when that is not quite the point of the faith.

    OK, anyway, didn’t mean to digress there…as far as responsibility, I do feel that a childless (or childfree) woman actually is MORE responsible than someone who brings a child into the world when she is young and unmarried. Unless she is going to give up the child for adoption into a good, loving couple, she is in essence depriving the child of a father – not to mention that many single mothers do present a drain on society, financially. That in itself is unChristian as it represents not being a good financial steward. So someone who remains childless/childfree actually IS responsible. But again, this is just my view.

    Furthermore, I do believe that there IS a path for a childless/childfree person to still follow God. There has to be, with the infertility problems, etc., these days. I don’t feel that it is godly for a young girl to irresponsibly breed, and then judge other women around her who took precautions not to do so. Giving birth does not make a woman superior to another woman who has never given birth.

  51. @Annie: I have NEVER used hormonal birth control and I have never wanted children and each year that passes I want them less.

    Not only do I not want them, I think it is fundamentally selfish, yes you heard right, SELFISH to reproduce and bring a child onto this planet as it is to suffer and struggle more for completely selfish personal reasons.

    Having biological children is narcissistic and selfish IMO. If you want to parent, adopt someone already here. But don’t bring somebody into this world to “love you” or “care for you when you’re old” or to “be fruitful and multiply”. I think religious people need to develop common sense. Even IF the bible were somehow proven to be some one true truth, do you really think telling a few goat herders way back in the before time to have some babies and populate the earth meant that when we got to 7 billion people and were wrecking our home (planet) that we were supposed to keep going.

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