I don't understand people who piously don't read books that go against their principles. I mean, reading Nietzsche never harmed anyone—except those who took him too seriously. One of my favorite reading activities is reading books against the grain. My personal reading credo includes the belief that insights of people working in fields of inquiry that are foreign to me are riper for invasion than Iraq.
My favorite recent example is a book entitled The Coming Population Crash by Fred Pearce. Pearce is a card-carrying leftist environmentalist who's spent his lifetime attending population conferences and debunking the Malthusian assumptions of population control. Deep down I see his book as a testament to the infertility that's built into capitalism's logic of infinite production for the sake of production, rather than for the sake of more human goals such as justice or solidarity. Here's why.
The book starts out as a really frightening catalog of eugenic crimes against humanity made in the name of An Essay on the Principle of Population. These man-made catastrophes range from the Irish Potato Famine to the forced sterilization of literally millions in India (and selective abortion, especially among the best educated) thanks to American money in exchange for economic aid. According to Pearce, these American efforts to reduce the fertility of "little brown men" was clearly racist in motivation. He supports his case with plenty of primary sources.
The prospects of capitalist development (and products) were dangled in front of these people and their governments (who frequently forced their populations to acquiesce with our money), so that their men wouldn't leave other things dangling unsheathed. The combination of economic development and birth control goes hand in hand. Being able to control the amount of children you have gives you an opportunity, especially for women, an opportunity to be fertile in producing for global capital. All of this does seem like an exchange of one type of fertility for another type of fertility.
As a consequence, there is good news for those people you might know who are even vaguely worried about hordes of immigrants invading Europe and the United States: The contraceptive/sexual revolution has not only made the West mostly infertile, but also Third World countries that haven't yet made it up the economic pecking order. The replacement rate ranges anywhere from 2.1 to 2.7 for a couple. Most of North America, South America, the Middle East, India, and East Asia is way below that.
The author of The Coming Population Crash predicts that the world's population will reach its peak sometime around 2050 and then we'll see the first drop in population since the Black Plague ravaged Europe. He seems to think that immigration will be able to pick up some of the slack for the considerably older population. He also thinks that an older population will be less combative and wiser. Whoever thinks that has never met my grandfather (of blessed memory).
My own Augustinian inclination is to think that, if Pearce is right, a generation of people whose only god has been endless multiplication of stuff will not prove itself to be kind to each other, the rest of the world, and the environment. I also suspect that the rain of condoms pouring down upon us will lead nearly all countries to a Japan like fate of sexlessness and consumerist celibacy, rather than leaving some to provide us with laboring fodder.
This gives new meaning to Eliot's, "Not with a bang but with a whimper," doesn't it?
Such a demographic situation could be a moment of triumph for Catholics, if they ever actually followed Catholic teachings on sexuality. That would be a lot easier if Catholics who have money would come up with ways to pick up the slack for the collapse of the extended family, instead of promoting the very Neo-Con system that disincentivizes fertility.
The parish ought to be the site where all of this is concentrated. This is why, in apposition with Aaron Taylor in the piece "Celibacy and Sexual Capitalism,"—or, possibly completely complimentary following an entirely different track—I believe that sexual fertility is a possible site of public and ecclesial resistance. It could also be a site of outreach to non-Catholics who choose to buck the trends and have large families. Putting your money where your mouth is happens to be the surest way to convert folks.
One of the things you pick up from Rodney Stark's (another author worth reading against the grain) number crunching in The Rise of Christianity is how big a role fertility played in the early successes of Christianity. On his account, Christianity was able to resist and then triumph over Empire thanks to demographics. The traditional Christian bans on contraception and abortion, and its support for mothers, were a winning demographic and apologetic strategy.
Can we reconfigure the parish as a site of fertile resistance to capitalist (in-)fertility, especially when we have John Paul II's groundbreaking insights in Love and Responsibility and Man and Woman He Created Them?
My Augustinian streak leads me to doubt it.
As I argued yesterday in the piece "No More Throne and Altar: St. JP2 on Inequality is the Root of Social Evil," Catholics ignore the Church's subversive teachings on sexuality almost as frequently as they ignore the economic radicalism of CST. I'm also beginning to suspect that I'll have to reach for Mary Eberstadt's How the West Really Lost God sometime, even though I suspect her capitalist-fundamentalist leanings probably won't offer any viable solutions to the problems she poses.