Friday, February 5, 2016

Perpetual Green Arrow: The Quiverfulls, Part 1

From the January 2013 E-Block.


The so-called "Quiverfull" movement is one that encourages Christians to have unlimited offspring. Most readers will be familiar with the television program featuring the Duggar family, which at last report has 19 children. The Duggars are perhaps the best known Quiverfull proponents in the nation (though I have read that they deny being part of the movement).

How sound, though, are the Biblical arguments of the Quiverfull movement? In this article we will examine those presented by Nancy Campbell in Be Fruitful and Multiply (hereinafter “BFM”). Campbell's arguments can be grouped into several categories, none of which offers much in the way of persuasion for the Quiverfull position. 

Before proceeding, I should issue the necessary caveat that none of what is offered below is intended to encourage or condemn those who wish for a large family. What is being addressed is the insinuations from Campbell that ONLY those who have large families are acting in obedience to Biblical principles. 

  • Potentiality arguments. Several of Campbell's points speak to the reputedly wasted potential of those who do not conceive children. For example: "Who knows which of them will be another David, or Paul, or Einstein, or Billy Graham!" (73) 
  • Such arguments may have a persuasive emotional component, but they are all too easily turned around to say something like, "Who knows which of them will be an Al Capone, or a Ted Bundy, or an Osama bin Laden!" While this may seem over the top, Campbell's example is as well. Potentiality, therefore, simply isn't a viable argument. Again, this doesn't mean that those who choose to have large families are in the wrong, only that this isn't a viable argument for having a large family.
  • Preferred anecdotes. Campbell carefully selects stories to tell about people who filled their quiver with children and came out happy about it; however, as with the potentiality argument, this too can easily be turned around. Campbell's selectivity bias would lead her to leave out any stories that ended up tragically, or with a family living in grinding poverty, or with some other distressing conclusion (e.g., the "Octomom" and her travails).
    In particular, Campbell carefully selects stories of people who filled their quiver with children and "trusted the Lord" to provide what they needed. In this, Campbell is no better positioned than the televangelist who tells stories of "seed faith" where donors ended up getting money, while ignoring any stories of people who never received anything. Rather disturbingly on this account, Campbell illicitly reasons that those who are poor should desire more children, because "with children come all sorts of blessings including economic blessings." [129] Then she adds, "Faith simply obeys -- and trusts God!" [130] We will refer more to this below.

    "The church could take over!" Campbell argues that if godly Christians had quivers full of children, the church could become more numerous and take over society. This is flawed, initially, as a potentiality argument, and one that can be readily turned around. Campbell prefers anecdotes? I know of a Christian family with four children, and all four committed apostasies. I also know of a family with four children where all four remain Christians. So, this argument fails the same way as potentiality arguments. (Campbell, however, thinks it is part of Satan's plan (!) to limit Christian children.)

    Old Testament figures. Campbell points again and again to accounts of Old Testament figures who had numerous children. These people are, BFM says, "considered blessed to have many children" (4), which leads us to the most serious problem in Campbell's presentation, a lack of contextual considerations.
    In the OT world, infant and child mortality was exceptionally high. In addition, the average human lifespan was around 35 years. In contrast, infant and child mortality in the modern West is extremely low, with such persons living well into their 80s and 90s.

    In this light, to have Campbell -- who lives nestled comfortably in the modern West -- give ALL Christians advice (if not implicitly, a command from God) to fill their quivers with children, is in many ways not only misguided, but also insensitive. Big families were a survival necessity in the ancient world, but in the modern world they are not. Ancient people had big families so that they could survive. Modern Quiverfulls, like Campbell, have big families so that they can indulge themselves with what they think is a "blessing" from God.

    The reader will note here that I have not engaged any arguments regarding overpopulation. Nor will I do so to any real extent, since it requires sociological expertise that I do not possess. That said, I cannot help but feel disturbed by some of Campbell's attempts to answer such arguments.

    For example, Campbell argues that if one drives from coast to coast, one will see that there is plenty of empty land to put people in (26). Indeed? How much naiveté does it take to suppose that one could fill a place like the Sonoran desert with people, and support it as a population? How about Antarctica? Campbell points out that if every person on Earth were grouped together, we'd all fit into Texas and have 2000 square feet apiece, and she supposes that with proper management of resources, we'd be able to take care of forty billion people (26-29).

    Really? Again, I am not an expert on this matter, but Campbell does refer to one expert -- and only one worthy of the name -- as saying that 40 billion is not out of the question. She refers to Roger Revelle, of the Harvard Center for Population Studies, as affirming this. Campbell gives no note for this point, and it is not hard to see why: Revelle's "40 billion" number was based on an exercise intended to estimate how much the world could feed, not establish a practical and sustainable population level -- and certainly not a level of population that would allow someone like Campbell to continue in her own current lifestyle. What Campbell neglects to mention is that Revelle's scenario permits each person 2500 kilocalories a day, on a strictly vegetarian diet.

    Again, I am not expert on this matter, so I do not claim to have any definitive answer to Campbell on what some call the Earth's "carrying capacity." What I can note is that Campbell doesn't tell the whole story when she appeals to such numbers -- and from what can be found, is not currently living the sort of lifestyle Revelle suggested was necessary for that 40 billion level to become a reality. Among her anecdotes are those of multi-children families whose children happily sleep on the floor, since they have no room for beds (132). Of course, in this, they live as simply as people in Bible times did. To that extent, Campbell does well to question the excesses of Western materialism. Yet, she also enjoys the modern convenience of a website and publishing an occasional magazine. So there is clearly a certain inconsistency between what Campbell practices and what she preaches. I can only hope it is because of naiveté rather than deception or indifference.
  • Risk arguments. Campbell recites alleged difficulties and risks associated with various forms of contraception and birth control. But again, this is a potentiality argument that can be readily turned around. There are also multiple difficulties and risks associated with childbirth but, of course, Campbell would never accept this as an argument for not having children. Other claims used by Campbell seem questionable on other grounds. As a remark on the benefits of breastfeeding, she quotes Renneker's Understanding Cancer as referring to the "Tania women of Hong Kong" who only breastfeed with the right breast, and tend to have more cancer on the left. But a Google search of Renneker's book reveals no reference to the "Tania women of Hong Kong."
  • Threats. Though she does not say those who use contraception are going to burn in hell, Campbell does find it necessary to issue threats now and then. For example, supposing that contraception somehow contradicts the "fruitful and multiply" mandate (which it does not -- see below), Campbell warns that we couldn't trust a God who changed His mind on the subject of contraception. Ironically the same sort of argument is used by atheists who object that God changed His mind about the OT law. Later, Campbell also claims it is "the strategy of Satan to minimize the holy seed" and keep Christians from having children (38). Finally, for good measure, she quotes 1 Samuel 15:22-23 as saying that obedience is better than sacrifice -- so make sure you obey God and have a lot of babies! Such threatening points are not the tactic of those who have sound arguments.
  • Scriptural arguments. Apart from the examples above, many of which are supplemented with Scripture references, does Campbell offer anything else?
  • One thing she points to more than once is the Genesis mandate to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply." According to Campbell's introduction author, this was "(t)he first great commission given to man" (3). Later, Campbell herself interprets the words of the commission to mean "fill up the world to overflowing" (22). The specific word she points to is the Hebrew male, which is rendered as "replenish" in the KJV, Gen. 1:28. However, this is a tendentious reading of male that is not justified. The same word is used to describe the filling of the seas with marine life (Gen. 1:22), and the density of the undersea animal population is not even close to the point that they are "overflowing" the ocean -- nor could it ever have been. In another context the word is used to refer to the fulfilling of the time of pregnancy (Gen. 25:24) and Jacob's term of servitude under Laban (29:21). The word clearly indicates simply filling to a certain level, not "overflowing."
    Campbell also notes several other passages where Israel is commanded to "increase," "multiply," be "plenteous," etc.; however, none of these offers any specific mandate or timetable to reach a certain population goal, much less do they impose a mandate on individuals to procreate, as they are given only as directions to Israel as a collective and not to individuals.
  • Campbell misuses the story of Onan as though it were a teaching against contraception (link below).
  • Campbell's intro writer also claims that Romans 1 speaks against contraception inasmuch as it speaks of those who do things "against nature." However, Paul goes on to quite clearly specify what he means when he says: "And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet." This illicitly expands the category from homosexual behavior to "perversion/selfish unbiblical gratification," and under the errant assumption that contraception is one such perversion, wrongly assumes it is condemned by Paul. The rub of this is that by this reasoning, any couple that is not able to conceive for some reason -- whether because of illness or some other cause beyond their control -- is therefore constrained to avoid sexual intercourse altogether, since they are not able to use their bodies, as she puts it, for anything but the "gratification" aspect of sex!
  • More than a few times, Campbell takes illicit liberties with Scripture. She uses Romans 7:4, for example: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, [even] to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. " From this, she gets a lesson that "God's intention for the marriage union" is that we are to have fruit (children). But in Romans 7 Paul is using marriage as a metaphor for the Christian life, not giving literal instructions for marriage! This is one of several cases where Campbell uses the text in a midrashic fashion. Another such misuse is Matthew 18:5, where Jesus welcomes a child into the midst of his disciples. Campbell "misdrashes" this passage into a directive to have babies so that we can welcome them into our households!

    We'll have a look at another Quiverfull publication next time. For now, it seems clear that Campbell, at least, relies more on sentiment than she does on fact and/or exegesis of Scripture.
  • On Onan
  • For perspective, a blog entry for a former Quiverfull member

  • 1 comment:

    1. Hit the road, Hans. I don't advertise for pests who think "I say so" is an argument and whose reading level appears to be grade school texts.