Strangely enough, the very first mitzvah in the Torah has today for many become a universal sin.
“Be fruitful and multiply,” said God when He completed His work of creation. In the words of Maimonides, we were meant to imitate the Almighty. What God did was meant to become the paradigm of our purpose on earth as well. Human beings were entrusted to continue the divine will for propagation of those created in His image.
It was probably the greatest gift God shared with us – to be able to become co-Creators equally sharing in the miracle of initiating human life.
Yet for many, that commandment needs to be negated. The earth cannot possibly accommodate any more inhabitants. The is “no more room in the inn.” To bring more children to the world is too dangerous, too risky, too hazardous to the capacity of the world to survive.
And so we face the peril of human extinction – not by war but by suicide, the collective decision to end our role as given to us in Genesis to be ongoing creators imitating the God who placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Elon Musk is surely no fool. He is the wealthiest man in the world. And what can he possibly be worried about? “Falling birth rates,” he tweeted, “ are the biggest danger civilization faces by far.”
Here is the latest shocking statistic. A new study by the Pew Research Center surveyed over 3,800 Americans ages 18 to 49. It found that among nonparents in this cohort, 44% said it is highly unlikely that they would have kids someday. That is up by seven percentage points from 37% childless adults who said the same in 2018.
More than half of this group – 56% – said clearly and vocally that “they just don’t want kids.” Among adults surveyed who are already parents, nearly three-quarters say they are highly unlikely to have any more children. This, the Pew report says is virtually unchanged since 2018.
Sociologists are finding more and more signs of cultural attitudinal change to approval of the choice of the child-free life. In an essay series, the Guardian explored the de-stigmatization of child-free marriages in which a number of mothers have even shared regrets about having children.
Why? What accounts for this cultural shift?
A typical response is often merely a non-response: “I just don’t want to.”
But from those who do answer, we can readily find clues that illuminate the societal changes which brought with them the anti-child movement. When Buzzfeed polled women and asked them to be brutally honest about why they had no interest in having children – ever – a number of respondents emphasized the values which find the most approval in today’s media:
“I feel like I am too selfish to have a child. I like the fact that my fiancé and I can eat what we want, go out for dinner whenever, do whatever we want whenever we want, and not have to worry about who will care for our child. I just love our freedom.”
Selfishness today isn’t considered a character failing. Selfishness is “in.” It’s being “true to yourself.” It’s caring about the one person every single ad you’re exposed to keeps telling you and reminding you: you’re supposed to be number one in your thoughts. And babies just interfere with your self-given right to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
“I didn’t want to lose myself as an individual. I knew from childhood I didn’t want children. I refused baby dolls and I didn’t like actual babies either. Some family members tried to encourage me to change and as I got into young adulthood, some of them tried to say I’d change my mind. I never did. I just don’t have that maternal urge. I didn’t want to lose myself as an individual.
Here are all the latest keywords: I am an individual – for myself first and always. And the word obligation – who wants to hear that. Maternal? That seems to be another one of those idealistic ideas that I choose not to subscribe to, even though that’s the reason I myself was born and tended to from my birth.
“It feels so socially irresponsible. Overpopulation mixed with the reality of climate change is a recipe for disaster. I’ve never felt the instinctive urge to procreate and when I felt it was expected of me, it filled me with dread. On top of these personal factors, it feels so socially irresponsible. Overpopulation mixed with the reality of climate change is a recipe for disaster, famine, and death. I genuinely believe all governments should be encouraging one-child families and adoption if people are genuinely desperate for children. The planet simply can’t sustain us if we continue breeding at the current rate.”
Finally, the most remarkable reason of all: what for many millennia – and for Judaism in particular – was considered a major mitzvah has now been transformed into a socially irresponsible sin. Note the incredible irony: voluntary childlessness, as per a spate of articles, should be seen as the only viable and laudatory option for those who care about the survival of the planet and its inhabitants!
So here is something you may want to consider by way of a Talmudic “secret.” After we leave this earth we are told that we need to pass a heavenly “final examination.” It’s a test designed to determine whether our lives fulfilled their divine purpose. And unlike school exams, we are given the questions in advance so that we might make certain we pass divine examination. Near the top of the list of heavenly concern is the following: “Did you attempt to imitate God’s role as creator by fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and multiply?”
For those who through no fault of their own were unable to have children, God will answer with love. But for those who chose willingly to forgo the mitzvah, the joys, and the responsibility of parenthood – they need to know they have failed to make possible the life of a child whose contributions to the world might have been immeasurable and irreplaceable. More, they have abdicated their divine mission to imitate God who has created us in His image.