Economics, Babes, and a Bedside Ethos

The August 2006 issue of 'Christianity Today' just hit the newsstands. In it there is an article by Leslie Leyland Fields entitled 'The Case for Kids: A defense of the large family by a six-time breeder.'' (Unfortunately, as of this moment this article is not yet available on the web.)

Towards the end of her article she takes up the child-bearing and child-rearing issue that I fear rules in the hearts of many a Christian married-couple, keeping them from having children more than once, yet, or at all. And what is the issue? The cost of children. Economics. The author of the article writes, "It no longer makes economic sense to have a child at all. Books, articles, and internet calculators coolly estimate the financial liability of raising a child to adulthood and arrive at staggering figures, ranging from $700,000 to $1.5 million per child. By these calculations, Americans should stop having children altogether." (And might I add that by these calculations the childless seminarian and his wife need not pretend that the seminary studies are what pose the insurmountable economic hurdle to the Lord's blessing of children within their marriage. More honestly, in the face of the dollars sited above, it would seem that the chosen career path would pose a more real and perennial economic threat. But, I digress.)

The author continues:

Even after considering the cost of education, a typical child in the U.S. consumes 28 percent less than the typical working-age adult, while elders consume 27 percent more, mostly in health-related expenses. How do we order and feed such a top-heavy, resource-consuming society of elders – a demographic of which most who read this article are a part? Who will produce the goods needed to keep the nation’s engines and industries running? When our self-reliance wears out, when our self-authenticated minds and our spirituality unfettered and independent souls grow dim with age, who will feed and sustain us? Who will wheel us into surgery, deliver our packages, grow our food, research and formulate the medications that enable us to live longer and better? In an overburdened medical system, who will decide whether or not our lives still have value when our medical costs outweigh our economic worth? (Italics added) In all of this, we will depend on the actions and judgments of other peoples’ children.

We, as a Christian community, have already heard the first gasps, even our own, as we learn of the not-uncommon-university-lectured-ethos and the real-life-instances that ‘pull-the-plug’ on ‘one of the least of these’ because ‘medical costs outweigh… economic worth’. Yet seldom is the self-reflection (Leslie Leyland Fields excluded) that would lead the same gasping Christian community to take a step back and see such an ethos and such instances as the paradoxical progeny of their own children who were never born. And why weren’t they born? Because the cost of such children was deemed too great an economic hurdle – this from a generation of would be parents entitled to cable tv, cell-phones, dsl, foreign travel, a health club membership, and automobiles hardly the jalopies their grandparents started out with – a generation of which I am chief of sinners.

I am looking forward to your comments, thoughts, and discussion.


Live births from "artificial" sperm

This story reminds me of an interesting query I have posed before. Christians are proud to have the slogan and belief that "life begins at conception." But what does that specifically mean? How do we know exactly when in the process of human reproduction that a soul is implicated in the flesh any more than we do when it is that a soul leaves the body in the process of death? A soul is supernatural and beyond the explanation of science.

As with the concept of inserting of genetic material into a human egg in cloning, the potential joining of laboratory created sperm and human eggs from the above linked story reminds me of this question in my mind. Even in normal human sexual reproduction, at what exact point in the PROCESS of fertilization is the soul implicated? Is the soul implicated at the point of:

Penetration by the sperm of the egg's zona pellucida?
Entry of the single winning sperm into the perivitelline space of the egg?
Fusion of the sperm with the egg's plasma membrane?
The egg's cortical reaction causing the zona pellucida to become "hardened " and refractory (preventing other sperm from entering)?
Entry of the sperm contents into the cytoplasm of the egg?
Formation of egg and sperm pronuclei through the reactivation of the cell cycles?
(Pronuclear formation takes place a few hours after penetration of the sperm into the egg)
Following anaphase II, when the egg chromosomes remaining in the cytoplasm disperse and the female pronucleus forms?
When the sperm nucleus is decondensed and transformed into a male pronucleus?
The two pronuclei move towards the egg center?
Pronuclear envelope breakdown?
The spatial organization of microtubule arrays by the centrosome, connecting the egg and sperm chromosomes?
Final intermixing of the maternally and paternally derived chromosomes to establish the genome of the embryo?
Preparation for the first cell division?

Most people know little of the science of reproduction and think that "fertilization" is a simple process which occurs in the blink of an eye. Not so. The intricate saga of fertilization can and does fail at any of the above amazing processes. Even my simple summary of some of the milestones only scratches the surface of all the intricate biochemical events involved, many of which science is yet (if ever) to discover. Which of these is the "critical event?" Scripture certainly does not tell us. Why?

The answer to this question in my opinion is simple. It happens when God wants it to. The more important implication of this question and its answer is that we shouldn't be messing around with what is solely God's territory in the first place!

"Life begins at conception?" What does that mean? How is that related to God's plan other than in a negative sense in which we rightly say that abortion is murder? Why do we let the abortion debate define God's plan of life?

Human life began with God's breath of life into Adam. It continued in his taking of Eve out of Adam. It continued with the joining of the two in marital relations, ordained by God, and by which God created offspring of Adam and Eve. Life continues today with the joining together of man and woman, if and when God desires that joining to result in the gift of offspring.

Does every joining together of egg and sperm (fertilization?) create life? Not every joining together of man and woman does. It is God's business when and if such unions between man and wife, and sperm and egg, result in life.

We are given the gift of marital love and the one-flesh union. God adds the gift of children if and when he so pleases, just as he gives spiritual life through the gift of faith if and when he so pleases. If we follow God's design, these questions about how life is conceived do not need to even be asked, let alone answered. In fact, it is better we not ask or answer them, just as it is better not to ask why some are saved and not others.

So what's my point? Abortion is wrong for the same reason contraception is wrong, and for the same reason that human cloning and "artificial sperm" are wrong. They are all contrary to God's plan for the union of man and woman. They are all against God's will. Why do we always seek to rank sins, thinking abortion worse than contraception? Why are abortifacient birth control methods considered so much worse than non-abortifacient methods?

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." [James 2:10]

"For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." [Matthew 5:18]

The law convicts me just as severely as the abortionist. I am contraceptive at heart even though I employ no overt methods of family planning. I am a rebel against God as much as those who do employ such methods... even as much as those who abort their children, although I desire to think myself better.

"All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God." [Romans 3:23]

Yet Christ forgives us all, having given Himself for the life of the world.

"And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly: that, as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. We who died to sin, how shall we any longer live therein?" [Romans 5:20-6:2]

I sin horribly every day, being guilty of violating the whole law ... yet struggling with sin (living a life of repentance) by God's grace is a far cry from living in sin (unrepentant).

"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" [Romans 7:24-25]