When our twin boys were born last week here in Seattle, it struck me that my wife and I were implicitly registering a dissent from the secular liberal value system of most Seattleites, as from that of the residents of America’s other biggest left-leaning cities.
Jacob and Saul are our fourth and fifth babies.
This damp, tree-loving city is lushly green but largely sterile. Seattle is America’s second-most childless city, just behind San Francisco. It is also the chief metropolis of the country’s most unchurched region, the Pacific Northwest. People tend to have dogs rather than kids.
The correlation between holding secular liberal views and preferring not to reproduce has been noted elsewhere, but not adequately explained.
The data come from a juxtaposition of the red-and-blue quilted electoral map of the 2004 election with information from the National Center for Health Statistics and the 2004 General Social Survey.
Arthur Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs, writes in The Wall Street Journal: “If you picked 100 unrelated politically liberal adults at random, you would find that they had had, between them, 147 children. If you picked 100 conservatives, you would find 208 kids. That’s a ‘fertility gap’ of 41 percent.”
David Brooks notes in The New York Times a “spiritual movement” of “natalists,” but offers no insight into why exactly a spiritual perspective much more than a secular one would encourage reproduction. After all, secularists and liberals love their children too.
Certainly, conservative culture is imbued with scriptural values more than liberalism is. And the Bible not only lends strong support to conservative beliefs, but takes an insistently strong pro-natalist stance. This could be part of the explanation.
God likes babies. Noah, whose family alone survived the deluge that engulfed the rest of humanity, was given the commandment of populating the world: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the land” (Genesis 9:1).
Isaiah taught that God made the world with reproduction uppermost in mind: “He is the God, the One Who fashioned the earth and its Maker; He established it; He did not create it for emptiness; He fashioned it to be inhabited” (45:18).
Of course, plenty of secularists have children, too. If asked why they choose to do so, and with no less enthusiasm than that of their religious neighbors, they would say: “I love children.” “I want to give my love to a child or children.” “I want to nurture a human being, and see him grow and thrive.”
These are all beautiful and sincere sentiments. But not one of them would be unexpected coming from a would-be pet owner looking for a dog or cat to care for.
No, I am not saying that secularists see their children as pets, nor that the traditionally religious always make better parents. But the absence of an additional religious imperative for child-raising makes it understandable that liberals reproduce less often. Just as pet ownership is optional, so too is having children if the only reasons for doing so are those cited above.
It’s also possible to have too many pets, and the neighbors will chastise you for this. A staple of local news stories, frequently posted on the Drudge Report, is the eccentric person with way too many pets: There was the lady in Clearwater, Fla., with 100 cats, which led police to condemn her house as a public nuisance. Florida was also home to a man in Ocala charged with animal cruelty for keeping 300 cats. And so on.
Just so, families with five or more children can expect to be reproached by strangers in supermarkets and on sidewalks, wanting to know, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough already?”
The religiously motivated are undeterred because, unlike liberalism and secularism, a biblical worldview sees children as having a role besides that of the recipient of parental affection and nurturance. These adorable little tikes have the glorious task of being transmitters of an ancient tradition to posterity.
The Bible teaches this in connection with the Exodus from Egypt. “And you shall tell your son on that day, saying ‘It is because of this that the Lord acted on my behalf when I left Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).
In Deuteronomy, Moses advises: “And these matter that I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children and you shall speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire and when you arise” (6:6-7).
Just as your Internet access depends on countless other computers being linked to yours, the link between generations is stronger depending on how many children you have.
This is of special relevance for Jews, of all denominations. I’ve written before in this space about Jewish fertility and how it is impacted by worldview. As the statisticians Antony Gordon and Richard Horowitz have shown, every 100 Reform Jews will be reduced within four generations to only 10 Jews. Every 100 Conservative Jews will be reduced to 29.
In the struggle between rival worldviews that characterizes modern times, the Hebraic view is on the ropes, under constant attack from secularism. As in war, the number of soldiers on the ground matters no less than the qualities of the combatants.
A Jew who believes in Judaism cannot have too many children.