Population and the Bible

EEN - Daniel Young (DAN@ESA.MHS.CompuServe.COM)
14 Jul 97 11:17:11 EDT

EENet subscriber Dean Ohlman submits the following.

The following thoughts be Wendell Berry are apropos to this current

Wendell Berry on Population

There is great danger in the perception that "there are too many
people," whatever truth may be in it, for this is a premise from
which it is too likely that somebody, sooner or later, will proceed
to a determination of who are the surplus. If we conclude that there
are too many, it is hard to avoid the further conclusion that there
are some we do not need. But how many do we need, and which ones?
Which ones, now apparently unnecessary, may turn out later to be
indispensable? We do not know; it is a part of our mystery, our
wildness, that we do not know.

I would argue that, at least for us in the United States, the
conclusion that there are too many people is premature, not because
I know that there are not too many people, but because I do not think
we are prepared to come to such a conclusion. I grant that questions
about population size need to be asked, but they are not the first
questions that need to be asked.The "population problem," initially
should be examined as a problem not of quantity, but of pattern.
Before we conclude that we have too many people, we must ask if we
have people who are misused, people who are misplaced, or people who
are abusing the places they have. The facts of most immediate
importance may be not how many we are, but where we are and what we
are doing.

At any rate, the attempt to solve our problems by reducing our
numbers may be a distraction from the overriding statistic of our
time: that one human with a nuclear bomb and the will to use it is
100 percent too many. I would argue that it is not human fecundity
that is overcrowding the world so much as technological multipliers
of the power of individual humans. The worst disease of the world now
is probably the ideology of technological heroism, according to which
more and more people willingly cause large-scale effects that they do
not foresee and that they cannot control. This is the ideology of the
professional class of the industrial nations -- a class whose
allegiance to communities and places has been dissolved by their
economic motives and by their educations. These are people who will
go anywhere and jeopardize anything in order to assure the success
of their careers.

We may or may not have room for more people, but it is certain that
we do not have room for more technological heroics. We do not need
any more thousand-dollar solutions to ten-dollar problems or
million-dollar solutions to thousand-dollar problems -- or
multibillion-dollar solutions where there was never a problem at all.

We have no way to compute the inhabitability of our places; we cannot
weigh or measure the pleasures we take in them; we cannot say how
many dollars domestic tranquility is worth. And yet we must now
learn to bear in mind the memory of communities destroyed,
disfigured, or made desolate by technological events, as well as the
memory of families dispossessed, displaced, and impoverished by
"labor-saving" machines. The issue of human obsolescence may be more
urgent for us now than the issue of human population.

Economics_ pp. 149-150; North Point Press; San Francisco; 1987.


Also very fitting is the following article by Berry. I have not
found it on the Web, so folks will need to find it in the magazine.
"Sierra" Magazine (Sept//Oct 95). The title is "The Obligation of

In this excellent article Berry begins with a discussion of the
importance of staying put, then transitions into the issue of respect
for life -- in particular care for the human child.

Dean Ohlman

Daniel Young
Staff Associate
Evangelical Environmental Network