God's Babies: Natalism and Bible Interpretation in Modern America

God's Babies: Natalism and Bible Interpretation in Modern America John McKeown
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God's first words to Adam and Eve recorded in Genesis 1 v 28 were 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth….' John McKeown in his book 'God's Babies' takes these words and the many related references in the Bible and in Christian literature over the years and carefully discusses how Christians should apply them today in our increasingly crowded and damaged world. It is a subject of important relevance that we Christians today need to take on board. John's thorough and careful treatise provides a good basis from which to begin.
— Sir John Houghton CBE FRS, formerly chairman of Scientific Assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and Director General of the UK Meteorological Office.

This is an important book on an under-researched topic about which scholars and the general public urgently need to be better informed. McKeown offers a lucid, thorough and persuasive critique of Christian natalist theologies and ideologies, exploring their historical roots and showing why they exert such influence today. His work supplies a missing piece of the jigsaw of Christian environmental ethics, and deserves to be widely read.
— Rachel Muers, Senior Lecturer in Christian Studies, University of Leeds


In this fascinating study, McKeown offers the reader a lucid exploration of the ways in which 'biblical' notions of fruitfulness and procreative fecundity have been used and misused within the Christian theological tradition down through the ages. In doing so, McKeown makes a significant contribution to the field of theological ethics, but also adds a stimulating chapter to the ever expanding story of the Bible's reception from antiquity down to the present day.

— David Shepherd, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Trinity College Dublin

In this original, scholarly book the author carefully analyses the theological foundations for natality and finds them wanting. He skilfully exposes not just faulty biblical exegesis supporting such a view, but also the way in which the Christian tradition has been misaligned to such a position. He argues convincingly that such issues are not of mere theoretical importance, but have significant ramifications for environmental ethics. There is much to commend this thought provoking book, not just for Protestant readers, but especially Roman Catholic readers who, though rarely supporting natality as such, habitually remain confused by the demand to both have children and promote celibacy.
— Celia Deane-Drummond, Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

McKeown does a fine job of showing how the modern natalist position misreads scripture. His study of the movement is all the more illuminating for its deep historical and theological perspectives.
— John Bimson, Tutor in Old Testament, Trinity College Bristol


McKeown takes his readers on an intellectual voyage, tracing different views on the importance of procreation in the history of Christian thought. However God's Babies goes further by demonstrating that many present day pro-natalist readers of the Bible are thoroughly mistaken — and offers an alternative environmentalist view. Given the high stakes in debates in sustainability this is an important task, which McKeown takes up in this intelligent, intellectually honest and refreshing book.
— Tim Meijers, University of Louvain (Belgium)



The human population's annual total consumption is not sustainable by one planet. This unprecedented situation calls for a reform of religious cultures that promote a large ideal family size. Many observers assume that Christianity is inevitably part of this problem because it promotes "family values" and statistically, in America and elsewhere, has a higher birthrate than nonreligious people. This book explores diverse ideas about human reproduction in the church past and present. It investigates an extreme fringe of U.S. Protestantism, including the Quiverfull movement, that use Old Testament "fruitful" verses to support natalist ideas explicitly promoting higher fecundity. It also challenges the claim by some natalists that Martin Luther in the 16th century advocated similar ideas. This book argues that natalism is inappropriate as a Christian application of Scripture, especially since rich populations’ total footprints are detrimental to biodiversity and to human welfare. It explores the ancient cultural context of the Bible verses quoted by natalists. Challenging the assumption that religion normally promotes fecundity, the book finds surprising exceptions among early Christians (with a special focus on Saint Augustine) since they advocated spiritual fecundity in preference to biological fecundity. Finally the book uses a hermeneutic lens derived from Genesis 1, and prioritising the modern problem of biodiversity, to provide ecological interpretations of the Bible's "fruitful" verses.

This book is part-funded by a Kickstarter campaign. Thanks are due to the following backers: Dr. Anthony Hereward, Dr. Caitlin Kight, Helen Haran, Richard Grossman, Karin Kuhlemann, Jesse Jamieson, Professor Tom Tregenza, Ruth O’Brien, Ben Toulson, Dr. Andrew Cowley, Caroline Pomeroy, Dr. Ian McKeown, Emily Herberich, Dr. Matthias Becher, Colin Bell and Samuel T. Dangremond.


God’s Babies: Natalism and Bible Interpretation in Modern America
Author: John McKeown | December 2014
x +249 | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
Number of Pages: x +249
ISBN Paperback: 9781783740529
ISBN Hardback: 9781783740536
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781783740543
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781783740550
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781783740567
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0048
BIC subject codes: HRAM ( Religious Issues and Debates), HRCG3 (Biblical Exegesis and Hermeneutics), RNA (Environmentalist Thought and Idealogy)


Acknowledgements
Foreword by David Clough

1. Natalism: A Popular Use of the Bible
2. Protestant Natalism in the U.S.
3. Martin Luther: Forerunner of Natalism?
4. The Old Testament Context
5. Augustine on Fruitfulness
6. An Ecological Critique of Natalism
7. Conclusion

Appendix
Abbreviations
Works Cited
Index


John McKeown led modules in Christian History, Theology, and Ecological Christianity at the University of Gloucestershire up to 2010. He completed his PhD in Old Testament Reception at Chester University in 2012. He was an Associate Lecturer for the Open University, in History. Before that he was Research Associate in Learning Technologies for Geography, at Leicester University. He currently works in IT support at the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, and is also a JRI Associate.