Submitted by Jerry Kvasnicka
While we frequently hear of global summits and conferences on such issues as climate change, the world economy and AIDS, it isn’t often that news comes to us of gatherings that address what is perhaps the key causative factor underlying virtually all of the world’s problems, namely overpopulation. Or do we seriously believe that an earth without human beings could environmentally and economically threaten itself? No, there is really only one reason why ecological catastrophe looms: too many Homo sapiens vying for a slice of the planetary pie. Until this fundamental issue is addressed, the plethora of programs to patch up the planet will all be for naught.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, world population reached seven billion on October 31, 2011. That this milestone fell on Halloween perhaps indicates the devilish nature of the problem! The online encyclopedia Wikipedia estimates births per year worldwide at 134 million and deaths at 56 million. At this rate world population is expected to grow to as much as 10.5 billion by 2050. This is far beyond the carrying capacity of the planet, especially considering that 90% of the growth will occur in underdeveloped countries. And since one person in the U.S. annually uses 50 times the energy of one Bengali, population growth in the industrial nations, though slower, will put enormous stress on world resources. Despite these sobering facts, programs to limit population growth often have low priority or engender outright opposition from political conservatives, religious organizations and prolife groups. Wikipedia notes that “the use of abortion in some population control strategies has caused controversy, with organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church explicitly opposing any intervention in the human reproductive process.”
Why? Why this stubborn refusal to apply discipline in this area? Obviously we are dealing with mindsets embedded in the deepest levels of human consciousness. In the opening chapter of the Bible, God reportedly commanded man to “be fruitful and multiply,” and perhaps the fervor to reproduce represents one way human beings try to compensate for their failure to observe the rest of God’s (life’s) commandments. If people are not secure and fulfilled in the expression of their true nature as representatives of the Creator on earth, then having children may be a way of compensating for this lack of meaning and purpose.
Do we suppose that today God (or whatever this term represents to you) is still urging us along the path of accelerated procreation? I very much doubt it. The message I’m getting in the stillness of meditation is something like this: “All right, already! Enough is enough! With all due respect, may I suggest that the totality of life in the universe is in no way diminished by the failure of human beings to reproduce? Life can manifest in an infinite number of ways, and right now it would be better for the earth and for the cosmos as a whole if it manifested in ways other than the multiplication of human forms.”
Religionists down through the ages have labored under the illusion that the earth is a “soul factory”—i.e. that it’s primary purpose is to mass produce souls (human beings) for the kingdom of heaven, where they have a chance to go after death. I suspect this notion is a baseline belief of the prolife movement—people who insist that life is precious. Indeed it is, but the supreme value of life is degraded when it is forced beyond the saturation point into human forms. The universe is less interested in quantity—the gross production of human forms—than in quality—the creative output of the earth system. The point has now been reached where quality will be better served by fewer births rather than more births. For those whose identity is in the individual human form such an idea may be anathema. But for those who have expanded their vision to embrace the larger purposes of the celestial order, the need to limit human forms is easily accepted.
So the “soul factory” delusion is one element of human conditioning that must dissolve if we are to move from indiscriminate breeding to wise life management. Another is the belief that my significance and sense of fulfillment are shortchanged if I do not have children. This belief is deeply rooted in cultural traditions throughout the world, particularly in developing nations where population growth has been so explosive. Again, it is a matter of basic personal identity. If identity is at the level of human flesh, obviously the more of it one can produce, the more seeming significance one has. But if identity has risen to the level of Spirit, to the nature and purposes of Being, then it is seen that meaning and significance come from within and in no way depend on external accretion.
Something similar could be said about sexual activity and the supposed need to be loved by, and have sex with, another human being. Again, if identity is at the level of the human form with its drives and impulses, fears and insecurities, sexual intimacy will seem crucial to personal well-being and significance. But if identity is with the essence of Being that informs the form, passionate love for that provides total fulfillment. This certainly doesn’t rule out relationships, even of a sexual nature. It just puts first things first. Sex becomes a creative option rather than an irresistible urge.
Another deep vein of conditioning concerns the notion that human forms must be saved and preserved at all costs. We find medical doctors making heroic efforts to keep brain-dead babies, hopelessly mutilated accident victims and vegetating elderly alive at some level. Some scientists drive themselves relentlessly to find cures for AIDS and Alzheimer’s or to discover the miracle drug that will prevent aging. Why? What if they were 100% successful at keeping people alive indefinitely? Would the earth be better off with all these forms on it? I think it would be overrun in short order and probably have to self-destruct. Though we may be reluctant to admit it, it is actually a blessing that human forms pass away. Given the present state on earth, aging, disease and natural disasters are nature’s defense against the human plague. In this sense we can actually give thanks for them. Sure it would be nice if the earth had a way of clearing itself of clutter without causing so much pain and suffering to human beings. But as long as they insist on maintaining impurities in themselves and show little interest in voluntarily limiting their numbers, these uncomfortable options are the only ones nature has available.
Clearly what is called for is spiritual education on a massive scale, so that people of all countries and cultural traditions begin to glimpse their inner worth and the creative role of the earth within the universal whole. Changes in consciousness consequent upon individual spiritual awakening should prepare the way for lifestyle changes that will gradually rid the earth system of its nemesis: the resource-eating human breeding machine.
What this comes down to for each individual is this: Am I willing to relinquish embedded religious and cultural beliefs about children, birth, death, heaven and hell? Am I willing to acknowledge that life is too precious to be imprisoned in vegetating and unwanted human flesh? Am I willing to let irreversibly deformed, depraved and decaying human forms mercifully return to their maker, even if it means my own? Am I willing to alter my own sexual habits for the sake of planetary stabilization and healing? Abstinence (yes abstinence!) may be indicated. The world’s population could be brought into balance if human beings would stop reproducing for just one generation! But how many would be willing to make such a sacrifice for the benefit of the whole? Yes, these are seemingly hard choices, but they are actually very easy when identity rises above personal wants and desires to embrace cosmic design and purpose.
Jerry Kvasnicka, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, has had a varied career as a youth minister, a radio news reporter, a writer and editor for several magazines and journals and a custodian with the Loveland, Colorado school district. Jerry currently edits and writes for the spirituality section of the online magazine The Mindful Word. He has lived at the Sunrise Ranch spiritual community in Loveland for twenty-four years. He can be reached at email@example.com.