Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has become one of the voices whom we count on for a clear, correct statement of the Church’s mission in the world. In February, Chaput spoke to Catholic educators and parents about “forming disciples for the third millennium.” By formation, he means not stuffing young heads full of facts, but encouraging children to build right habits of mind, heart, and will.
When we consider what is necessary for the formation of disciples for the third millennium, Chaput says that formation will “demand exactly the same missionary spirit and missionary skills it took for the first 2000 years.” Human nature, after all, does not change from generation to generation.
On the other hand, Chaput warns that “we are entering an age that will have its own unique challenges.” The disciples of the upcoming decades will face “a world drastically different from anything in American history.” If physics has changed the way we see the structure of the universe, then genetics has changed the way we see the structure of the human person. “And in the midst of this accelerating power and knowledge!” Chaput declares, “Western societies—many of them constituting the Christian world as we once knew it—are removing themselves from the future?’ The very societies that cradled the nascent Church and provided the seedbed for the flowering of Christian culture have opted out of history. They have decided, in the starkest terms, to die: They no longer reproduce themselves.
Chaput quotes statistics that by now are well known: One in seven people in developed countries is 65 or older; in 30 years that number will double. The fertility rate in all developed countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy, already has dropped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per couple. In 50 years the United States will be the only developed nation among the world’s twelve most populous countries; it will claim that status only because immigration has sustained its population. By 2050 the developed countries will claim barely ten percent of the world’s population.
Chaput does not shy away from the mammoth implications of this dangerous decline in population in the developed world. This downturn will change “the organizational terrain of human societies and institutions.” The archbishop concludes, “If the entire developed world woke up from its death wish tomorrow and began restoring its fertility rate, it would take decades to have any effect.” He even asks, “If a society has freely chosen against life, does it make any sense to mourn it?”
Freely chosen—that is the key phrase: The Western world has freely chosen against life. The developed countries, which at one time nurtured the deepest reverence for and understanding of the human person, have thrown away their most precious inheritance in favor of a contraceptive mentality that now blankets the globe like a plague. Having stunted our own growth, we fear the burgeoning population of developing nations as a threat to our security. Consequently, we pressure developing countries to submit to population control. Why bother with weapons when a troublesome, poor, or prolific people can be quietly reduced by supplying them with contraceptives? The first “aid” to the struggling Kosovars came in the form not of food but of contraceptives.
It began so innocently, the contraceptive mentality. In that first generation we wanted to be responsible parents. The next generations proved that seemingly benign beginnings, when intellectually and morally disordered, have lethal consequences. These have been the generations who say, “We have our careers, and we don’t want children yet,” or “We have our careers, and we don’t want children at all,” or “We’re living together now, so we can’t have children, but maybe in a year or two we will get married and have a baby.” Contraception makes these statements possible. It makes possible, as well, the lament, “I’ve contracted disease from years of promiscuity, and now I can’t have a baby” or “My husband left me for a younger woman.” Behind these lamentations runs a refrain from the would-be grandparents who cry, “Where are our grandchildren? They have been contracepted or aborted out of existence. Who will inherit our world? And how do we know we won’t be killed when we become inconvenient?”
The problem is we don’t know. In the contraceptive society’s culture of death, we may all be at risk, for who is not at one time or another inconvenient or useless? Where selfishness vanquishes love, we lose all taste for the future and thus all hope and all desire to plan for the future. If we have no children to bequeath our world to, then who cares?
The contraceptive mentality has deformed the Western soul for at least 75 years. How can our minds, imaginations, and wills be reformed? Chaput gave a blunt but hopeful answer to his audience. “The work each of you does today as a Catholic educator,” he said, “is the most important enterprise in the world. Forming disciples for the third millennium boils down, finally, to preaching, teaching, and building the culture of life that flows from the cross of Jesus Christ.”