The Quiverfull movement is based on a fundamentalist Christian theology which teaches that one should have as many children as possible in order to transform the world for God. Some in the movement are providentalists, meaning that they believe that married couples should have sex as desired and simply accept what does or does not happen in terms of pregnancy. Others reject any method of avoiding conception but accept fertility treatment or early weaning in order to achieve pregnancy. They believe that they are following the Genesis command to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” and specifically cite Psalm 137:
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.
It can be very difficult for scholarly outsiders to understand why anyone who based their views on “the Bible alone” would end up as a Quiverfull family. After all, the Bible is far from full of large families. Even the most exceptional case of Jacob’s 12 sons and 1 daughter is a rather questionable model tainted with four mothers and dramatic parenting failure.
But understanding the reasoning of fundamentalist Protestants adherents to the Quiverfull lifestyle is easy for me compared to its appeal for Catholics. I can understand how traditionalist Catholics can reject NFP, but the more traditional Catholic ideal is not a Quiverfull approach, it is complete sexual abstinence and sacrifice of one’s sexual desires for the sake of a godly home. Saint Augustine was about as far as one could be from advocating very large families.
The providentalist approach is highly problematic because it fails to account for human responsibility, and the duties of parents in particular. Parents are not entitled to enjoy full nights of sleep while their infants wail from hunger. Parents are not entitled to enjoy their hobbies while their children demolish the house. And parents are not entitled to enjoy sexual intercourse while their children are neglected.
The idea that more children is always better is incorrect because married couples are called to procreation in the fullest sense. This means that mere reproduction is not enough, parents must also raise their children well. Or, in the words of Vatican II: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children…Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted.” The idea that Christian married couples must “give outstanding witness to faithfulness and harmony in their love, and to their concern for educating their children also” is simply a new way of understanding the longstanding tradition that Christian couples are obligated to not only have children, but to raise them to be healthy members of society.
In recognition of the importance of quality over quantity of children, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus contains strong warnings against the idea of mass breeding one’s legacy:
Do not long for a brood of worthless children, and do not take pleasure in godless sons. However many you have, take no pleasure in them, unless the fear of the Lord lives among them. Do not count on their having long life, do not put too much faith in their number; for better have one than a thousand, better die childless than have children who are godless. One person of sense can populate a city, but a race of lawless people will be destroyed.
Few people have experience with either very large families or the reality of uninhibited fertility for healthy women in wealthy countries. Perhaps this is why so many seem open to the idea of “being Quiverfull” without recognizing the implications of such a belief system.
It is quite reasonable to expect a healthy Quiverfull woman to start bearing children in her late teens and not stop until her mid-forties. My sisters and I used to calculate what this would mean for us if we were to give birth every 18 months. We were not scared of the numbers because of the physical ramifications of constant pregnancy and breastfeeding. We were scared because we knew what it meant for the family. We knew that there was no way that anyone could actually parent that many children.
EDIT: While this post is about the Quiverfull ideology, I feel the need to at least acknowledge the Quiverfull reality. For one of the most powerful posts that I have seen on the subject please stop by Quivering Daughters. And please say a prayer for all the children who are caught in this movement. They have no choice to fight over theology and whether it is better to birth 15 children than to parent 5. They simply live this.
- I am thankful 2/28/2010
- Frosting or Icing?