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Culture & Religion

DEBATE/ To Procreate or Not to Procreate? The Question Asks: Do We Trust Our Creator?

Philosopher Peter Singer asks why we should procreate at all? Professor Elizabeth Schiltz answers in the words of Stanley Hauerwas that the question is one of trust in our Creator  


The Princeton philosopher Peter Singer recently posed an interesting question to the readers of the New York Times – why should any of us have children? Why is a world with people in it better than a world without any people? He asks his readers to imagine a world in which we could get agreement on universal sterilization – a world in which, because of that agreement, we could live as we chose, without worrying about the effect of our carbon footprint (or any of our lifestyle choices) on future generations. What, he asks, would be wrong with such a decision? He concedes that he thinks such a decision would be wrong, but confesses that he has trouble justifying that conclusion. He thus asks his readers, “Would it be wrong for us all to agree not to have children, so that we would be the last generation on Earth?”

Stanley Hauerwas provided what I think is the best Christian response to Peter Singer’s question in an article he wrote in 1977, called “Having and Learning to Care for Retarded Children.” Hauerwas argues that viewing our children as choices, rather than gifts, is corrosive. As Christians, he argues, we should understand that we have children because we are commanded to, and we follow that command because we accept that God’s creation is good. He writes that children are our “promissory notes”, our sign to the present and to the future, that we trust God and his creation. In his words:

[O]ur having children draws on our deepest convictions that God is the Lord of this world, that in spite of all the evidence of misery in this world, it is a world and existence that we can affirm as good as long as we have the assurance that He is its creator and redeemer . . . Children are thus our promissory note, our sign to present and future generations, that we Christians trust the Lord who has called us together to be his people. . . .