Population “Control” and Secular Apocalypticism | Russell Moore


Population “Control” and Secular Apocalypticism

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A couple of weeks ago on the “Albert Mohler Program,” I commended an article by Southern Seminary professor Mark Coppenger, entitled “Be Fruitful and Multiply,” which is now up and available on the Henry Institute web site. The Coppenger column has taken all the usual hits, including a cynical response from Salon Magazine. But, beyond that, one evangelical friend of the Henry Institute wondered whether Coppenger was not begging the ecological question with his suggestion that everyone on earth could fit into the state of Texas, in terms of square footage.

Well, no. I don’t think so.

Coppenger made his point in a startling way, but it is accurate. And it needed to be startling precisely because of the ways in which the average contemporary American naively accepts the rhetoric of the “overpopulation” extremists. Today, even many evangelical Christians believe the earth is swelled to capacity, without ever questioning whether or not that is so. The problem is that too many of us are accepting on faith an ideology that comes disguised as “objective” science.

In reality, the root of the overpopulation argument is the same old secular apocalypticism that gave us in the 1970s a vision of 2005 that looked like a scene from a “Mad Max” film, with water and other natural resources depleted by the groaning masses of humanity. Of course, no such thing has happened; nor will it. Interestingly, the culture is willing to mock the prophecy books identifying Saddam Hussein as the antichrist or predicting the Second Coming in 1988, collecting dust on the remainder tables of our evangelical bookstores. But few are willing to hold to the same level of ridicule secular environmentalists who picture the end-times with just as much sensationalism, and with just as much prophetic ability.

What Christians must realize is that overpopulation rhetoric is built on an ideological premise: that human beings are parasitic on the earth’s resources. They understand the first part of Psalm 8 (“what is the son of man that you are mindful of him?”) without understanding the second part (“you have put all things under his feet”). That is not by accident. The overpopulation alarmism is designed to suit the global purposes of Planned Parenthood, the United Nations Population Fund, and the repressive policies of totalitarian regimes such as the Chinese government. And it just happens to fit nicely with the consumerist, anti-child spirit of contemporary American culture.

True, we don’t want all human beings crammed into Texas. But reminding ourselves that we could is a signal that we should always discern the spirits—even (especially?) if they come from a government-funded advocacy institute.

We live in a fearful and cowardly time. The crisis we face is not a crisis of clarity but a crisis of courage.


About Russell Moore

Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency 
of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination.