Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer, a history of Mormon fundamentalism leading up to the murder of Brenda Lafferty and her baby daughter Erica in Utah in 1984. Its a complex book, and has started me thinking on a variety of subjects, from the nature of religious belief, to my religious upbringing, to the priorities of human rights groups that condemn inhumane practices in other countries while our own government turns a blind eye to the sexual slavery of girls in polygamist communities in Arizona. Unfortunately, my mind works slowly enough that I don't have anything very coherent to say on these topics at the moment.

I will say, though, that this book reminded me that secular people who get hysterical about the Quiverfull movement, or who see it as some kind of right-wing conspiracy to take over the country by breeding little fundamentalists, are way overreacting.

I'm not saying that people who refuse to use birth-control because God Said to Have Kids aren't crazy; they are; they're also incorrect. If you're not allowed to use birth control to regulate pregnancy, you shouldn't be allowed to use vaccinations to regulate child deaths, or cars to regulate how your legs hurt when you walk ten miles. Trusting the Lord to decide the size of your family by doing nothing about it yourself makes no more sense than trusting the Lord to feed you when you refuse to raise your hand to work at growing food. The racism that proponents of these theories often spout is also disturbing. Hectoring white women to have more white babies to save the white race before little brown babies overrun the world is the stupidest reason to have a child that I've ever heard. And people who say things like "They don't believe in God, so they think we have to conserve what we have. But in my belief system, He's going to give us a new earth," to explain why overpopulation isn't a problem, are tragically detached from reality.

However, I've read the Bible, and I'm somewhat familiar with the history of the church, and it seems to me that the one thing you can count on about kids is that they're going to do things that you don't expect, particularly when it comes to religion. Great prophets throughout the Bible are shown again and again to have no control over what their children believe, say or do. Krakauer tells the history of numerous Mormons who decided that their leaders were wrong about essential doctrines, leading to more sects of Mormon fundamentalism than I think anyone has counted. He also tells the stories of girlchildren who grew up brainwashed to believe that they were supposed to be married off as a third or fourth wife at 13 or 14 in order to save their souls, but instead of cooperating talked back, called the cops, or ran off.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're trying to produce a religious army, having children is a foolish way to do it. Children have a way of growing up and becoming their own people. It's no easier to convince your child that what you say is true than it is to convince anyone else; sometimes it's even more difficult, because children live with you, they grow up in your presence and they know all your mistakes and weaknesses and lies.

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