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Root Irresponsibility for Major World Problems: the unexamined role of Abrahamic faiths in sustaining unrestrained population growth


Root Irresponsibility for Major World Problems
Table: Assessment of faith-based death warrants effectively authorized
Problem displacement
Misleading focus on proximate causes
A Terrifying Truth?
Euphemisms and spurious rationalizations
Contradictions associated with "right to life"
Maximizing suffering -- or "optimizing it"?
Methodology for requisite analysis
Assertion of moral authority
Implications of a founding myth for future faith-based governance

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This document is elaborated in the light of work over 30 years on the analysis of interdependencies of world problems, remedial global strategies and values, as profiled in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential -- together with profiles of the understandings of human and spiritual development of different belief systems.


A document with the above title calls for a number of preliminary comments:

  • many problems confronted by policy-makers would clearly be of considerably less catastrophic implication if the global population was:
    • at a much lower level
    • increasing at a much lower rate
  • the standard response is that:
    • humanity has the ingenuity to respond to its major policy challenges
    • resources are, in principle, more than sufficient -- provided they are appropriately distributed
  • unfortunately there is considerable evidence over many decades that in practice
    • institutions of global scope are not capable of mobilizing, focusing or implementing any consensus policy for effective (rather than tokenistic) redistribution of resources
    • the willingness to reduce any disparity in resource dissemination is very low, notably in the lifestyles of those associated with such institutions, and in any by which they are replaced
  • considerable reliance is placed on arguments that procreation:
    • is effectively a fundamental right of individuals in secular society
    • is specifically encouraged by scriptural authority (eg "go forth and multiply", Genesis 1:22)
    • is a natural manifestation of "human nature" over which it is not to be expected that credible policy constraints can be exerted, even if desirable
  • politically it is argued that:
    • any constraints on procreation are political suicide for those considering or recommending them; efforts to do so have been extremely unpopular and have encouraged processes to subvert them (China's "one child policy")
    • the issue can be avoided by focusing on more immediate problems (irrespective of whether they continue to be aggravated by the population issue)
    • the issue is of longer term (rather than shorter term) significance and may therefore be left to the responsibility of subsequent political authorities
    • efforts to encourage family planning on an individual level are politically more viable and are satisfactory where they are acceptable
  • economically and politically it is argued that:
    • the working population, notably required to finance social security and pension schemes for the elderly, is in decline
    • there is an increasing shortage of workers for essential functions in society
    • an increasing population is vital to sustain consumption levels on which healthy economic growth (and government fiscal income) is dependent
    • national populations functioning below the "replacement level" constitute a major threat to the future of national culture and identity
    • any worldwide efforts to restrain population growth, in the light of whatever rationalization, are seen as a covert means for ensuring the political or economic advantage of one nation or ethnic group over another -- to which "competitive breeding" is typically seen as a legitimate means of ensuring that faith-based values are passed on through the progeny

Within this context, however, it is important to recognize the manner in which:

To the extent that the matter is discussed, however, it is argued that:

  • the set of problems by which humanity is confronted is so complex that it is methodologically inappropriate to seek to identity causative factors, especially root causative factors
  • any cause-effect analysis seeking to isolate causes susceptible of strategic intervention is itself inappropriate as a methodology

This leads to a situation in which:

  • the increasing challenges of society are accepted fatalistically as a fact of life, whatever the predictable outcome
  • considerable attention is given to highlighting isolated examples of fruitful small-scale initiative as instances of hope, despite the manner in which hope-mongering is used to obscure the rate at which the scale of problems is increasing and the factors inhibiting replication of such initiatives on a larger scale
  • the tendency to frame the challenge for humanity simplistically, avoiding any effective use whatsoever of the analytical tools considered essential to the strategic deployment and management of technical projects that frequently contribute to the exacerbation of the current condition, ignore its seriousness, or exploit the policy hubris associated with it

Given the doctrinal position of the Abrahamic faiths, in practice, with regard to population issues, the questions raised in what follows are to what extent these religions are specifically responsible for:

  • inhibiting effective discussion of these issues
  • inhibiting formulation of appropriate and effective strategic responses
  • effectively increasing the degree of suffering in the world under conditions where redistribution of resources has proven in practice to be unrealistic in the short term
  • effectively increasing ensuring the death of people, possibly of other faiths, as a consequence of failure to address these issues

The purpose of this document is to focus attention on these issues and the questions they raise, and to clarify the responsibility of the Abrahamic faiths in this matter, if any. If, as such faiths may claim, they have no responsibility in the matter, then they should neither fear the raising of such questions nor any analysis that might justify their perspective.

This argument may appear to be inappropriate:

  • in raising issues associated with profound beliefs and centuries-old traditions that deserve every respect
  • in framing the question in terms of responsibility and therefore culpability
  • in being inadequately substantiated (irrespective of any inhibition of relevant analysis)
  • in evoking the potential significance of a founding myth common to the Abrahamic faith (the Binding of Isaac), seemingly irrelevant to any analytically substantiated policy argument (despite the increasing role of faith-based governance)

Nevertheless, however, the case would appear to merit careful consideration, given:

  • the gravity of the situation in which humanity finds itself
  • the commitment, or complicity, of the Abrahamic faiths in the early provocation of "end-times" scenarios through which it is believed that the difficulties of humanity will be resolved by divine intervention

It should be stressed, as noted above, that the following argument is formulated in the light of work (partly managed by the author) over 30 years in profiling thousands of problems, remedial strategies and human values (and their many interdependencies) as recognized by many international constituencies of every belief system. This included appreciative recognition of the variety of understanding of human and spiritual development associated with those belief systems. The material associated with the resulting Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is maintained in archival form for open web access -- with associated tools for visual exploration of independencies. The work has been substantially funded by the European Commission (Ecolynx - Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation, 1997-2000) and positively assessed for further funding by the World Bank (Interactive Conceptual Environmental Planning Tool for Developing Countries, 1998-1999).

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