Rebuttal to Pope Francis – On Being a Selfish DINK

DINK – Dual Income, No Kids

“. . . But having many children cannot automatically be an irresponsible choice. Not to have children is a selfish choice.” Pope Francis, February 11, 2015, general audience in St. Peter’s Square

As I sit down to write this article, I can already feel that the process is going to be a painful journey. A dark cloud has already settled over my soul. But you, dear reader, on a subject as intensely personal as the choice whether or not to have children, deserve an honest and heartfelt account if you are doing me the honor of spending your time to read this.

When Pope Francis uttered these thoughtless words, many around the world were understandably irritated. I, for one, found his opinion on the matter to be an incredibly over-simplified generalization, an insult to my intelligence, and hurtful. Hurtful, because my decision not to have children ended the most important relationship in my life with the only woman I have ever loved. While we loved each other very much, in the last six months of our marriage she grew increasingly unhappy at being denied the one thing in life she wanted most, a baby. My decision, my choice, led to the most painful experience of my life; and over two years later I am still coping with the loss.

Yet, Frank has the insensitivity to brand those, myself included, who have made this choice as selfish. Really? I didn’t realize losing the person you love most in the world was a selfish act.

There is the clichéd reasoning that the world is over-populated, which, I will admit, did play a role in my thinking as I am a concerned environmentalist. Not only does another mouth consume more of our declining resources, but that person also generates additional waste in our disposable society. And, if you have cleaned up as many beaches as I have over the years, you would know just how bad the waste problem has become.

There is also the inconvenient fact that we humans have been an evolutionary disaster for other species.[i] Far from being, as the Bible (Gen 1:24-28) refers to us, stewards of the planet, I am reminded of the famous line from The Matrix: “Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague.”

Additionally, biologists note that throughout the animal kingdom having children does consume a lot (most?) of the resources of the parent. Once a mother bird’s hatchlings emerge, all its time and energy is devoted to protecting and feeding its young. They are enslaved by their natural instincts, driven to exhaustion constantly seeking and returning with food, simply because they are genetically programmed to reproduce and pass on their genes.[ii] Humans are capable of breaking that endless cycle, of deciding that they will not be slaves to their DNA. Many childless couples have consciously chosen not to replicate their genes. This, of course, is in direct conflict with the Vatican and their archaic doctrines, which dictate that its followers must, and only, be mindless breeding stock.

However, there were other, deeply personal, reasons for my not wanting to have children.

The most compelling reason, which I only discovered through a lot of self-reflection after the marriage had ended, was that I had felt like a burden and an inconvenience to my own parents. It was only natural that I would perceive any potential children in this same light, given how I saw myself. Don’t get the wrong idea, my parents never treated me like a burden and an inconvenience, but, as a highly accident-prone child—as many are—I began to feel like I was always causing them needless headaches and unnecessary expenses. Slowly, I began to withdraw from them and reject their love, as I felt unworthy. (See TED – Brene Brown: The Power of Vulnerability)

You might think this reaction is crazy, but, in fact, it is actually a very common occurrence in children. I was in my forties before I realized I had rejected my parents love for over thirty years, and had been carrying around tremendous guilt for all the money I felt they had been forced to spend on me. From this perspective of being a burden, how was it possible for me to even begin to imagine having children? I had fully convinced myself I would resent any children for adding unwanted stress to my life.

However, many people choose, and it’s their right to do so, not to have kids in order that they can spend their hard-earned money on themselves. In this regard, I get why Frank, and others who share his opinion, feels this attitude can be interpreted as selfishness. However, my thinking was not rooted in financial selfishness. I was thinking about the psychological impact my resentment would have on those future children. Apparently, being concerned about the emotional well-being of a future child, because I didn’t feel I was psychologically ready—nor did I feel it fair to an innocent child—to project my issues onto them, makes me selfish.

Now, why would I want to bring a child into a world in which I was concerned that I would make them feel unwanted? I may be flawed, but I’m compassionate, not cruel. If only other would-be parents paused and gave a moment’s thought to dealing with their baggage before making a photocopy of themselves, there might be a lot fewer emotionally scarred people in the world.

There is also the issue of genetics. I suffer from cluster headaches, bad knees, and chronic insomnia; all of which I inherited from my mother. What caring parent would knowingly and willingly want to pass on such afflictions to a beloved child? Apparently, being concerned about the physical well-being of a future child makes me selfish.

Finally, there is the issue of suffering. It’s inescapable; it’s a part of life. The first noble truth of Buddhism is: all life is suffering. Why, as a parent who loves their child, would I want to bring a child into the world knowing he or she will experience pain and suffering? To my thinking, the best way to prevent their suffering was to not have the child in the first place. Apparently, being concerned about the inevitable heartbreak we all experience, and wanting to do as much as I can to prevent a future child from having to go through that anguish, makes me selfish.

Of course, my friends could be right: I just think too much.

“People who want to change the world tend to suffer a lot for it.” John Lloyd, on the death of Robin Williams.

[i] If we combine the mass extinctions in Australia (24 animal species weighing 50 kg or more, 23 became extinct; New Zealand – Within a couple of centuries [of Maori arrival], the majority of the local megafauna was extinct, along with 60% of all bird species; pg. 65, 67) and America (Within 2,000 years of Sapiens arrival, N. Am. lost 34 of 47 genera of large mammals; S. Am. 50 of 60; pg. 71), and add the smaller-scale extinctions that took place as Homo sapiens spread over Afro-Asia – such as the extinction of all other human species – and the extinctions that occurred when ancient foragers settled remote islands such as Cuba, the inevitable conclusion is that the first wave of Sapiens colonisation was one of the biggest and swiftest ecological disasters to befall the animal kingdom. . . . At the time of the Cognitive Revolution (70,000 years ago), the planet was home to about 200 genera of large terrestrial mammals weighing over fifty kilograms. At the time of the Agricultural Revolution (12,000 years ago), only about a hundred remained. Homo sapiens drove to extinction about half of the planet’s big beasts long before humans invented the wheel, writing, or iron tools. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (London: Harvill Secker, 2011), 72.

[ii] Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

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