In the wake of the President’s decision to support gay marriage and North Carolina’s constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it might be time to reflect on the Biblical passage I've been told is the basis of Christian opposition to gay marriage.
According to Genesis, God said to Adam and Eve after blessing them, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.” Whether you choose to believe in the story of creation as told in Genesis or not, either allegoricallly or literally, it’s difficult to agree with the restrictive meaning often given to this parting blessing of a father sending his children off into the world.
I don’t purport to be a Biblical scholar by any means, but it seems to me that the first and most important part of God’s counsel is to “be fruitful.” Although being fruitful could refer to having children, that narrow interpretation ignores the much broader meaning of the word. The word fruitful has been used in the Bible to describe everything from bearing children, to bountiful harvests, to the words and actions of people. Parables have been used to illustrate how we should strive in word and deed to be like the trees that bear good fruit. As human beings we are capable of so much more than merely reproducing, that limiting the meaning of the word fruitful to that single aspect of our nature denies the greater purposes for which we were created. We have been given so many talents that must be used if we truly aspire to be fruitful.
The fact is that each of us may be fruitful without ever having children. Building, painting, writing, parenting, teaching, listening, and helping each other are all fruitful endeavors. Everything we do has the potential of being fruitful. We have been blessed with an intelligence that separates us from the animals and imposes a greater responsibility on us to use that intelligence for some higher purpose. Being fruitful demands that we use our intellect to the fullest to achieve things beyond merely reproducing to the point where we overpopulate the earth. It would be silly to conceive of some sort of divine plan that skewed our priorities so badly and demanded so little of our talents.
I've never quite understood how this particular passage became the basis of such a repressive and dismal view of human sexuality. That kind of thinking has borne its own tragic fruits. Beyond homophobia, this cynical outlook on human nature has led to a distorted, one dimensional concept of human sexuality that has allowed problems like pedophilia to be wrongly viewed as a sin that could be forgiven rather than a sickness that needed treatment. It views all birth control for whatever reasons as wrong. It views in vitro fertilization as unnatural and not part of the divine plan. It teaches that sex is purely for procreation purposes within marriage, ignoring completely the other facets of human sexuality, including the emotional aspects of intimacy and love. Is it wrong for married couples to express intimacy if the act does not include at least some chance of producing a pregnancy? Many of us were taught that any such act was sinful, as was any sexual act outside of marriage or not intended or incapable of producing offspring.
As a result of these repressive ideas, women have been relegated to strictly child-bearing roles. Women who have advocated for a role for women outside the home have been branded as witches and Satanists. Many people have been damaged psychologically. And all of this has been done using nonsensical interpretations of a simple passage that really means little more than the oft-used phrase "be all that you can be."
It's time to discard these errant beliefs along with other Biblically inspired falsehoods we have long since abandoned. What has this interpretation ever done but cause misery and despair? Instead we need to focus on the true message of that passage - the unlimited potential we as human beings have to change the world. This is our world to make the best of. We can choose to limit our choices to those offered by misguided zealots or we can make full use of our talents to make the world a better place for us all. Let us, as Christ said, be known by our fruits, which are our accomplishments, and which include more than having and raising children.
Having children is important though. Children guarantee the survival of the human race and are the means of carrying on the good work we've started. Not all of us can or will have children. But all of us should have some sort of higher purpose to our lives. If we do have children, we should have them not as an act of duty, but as an act of love and committment. We should love our children and teach them to also seek a higher purpose in their own lives. Living and working towards noble purposes is what gives our lives meaning and fulfils us as human beings and makes us fruitful in the full sense of the word. This makes more sense as a divine plan to me than any of the cynical and repressive meanings that have been attributed to this Biblical passage. I have a hard time believing that God would think that small.