Be Fruitful and Multiply ______?

When I was born under 3 billion people walked this earth. Now, almost 59 years later that number has soared to 7 billion plus. The first thing that comes to my mind is: well …I am among the OLDest people living on this planet, 🙂 but more importantly, I notice that the humans are the most adaptable creatures to walk the earth.

Our species have faced and overcome grave challenges. For instance, 70 thousand years ago due to severe climate change we dwindled to a mere 2000 people, bottled up in southeast Africa We almost went extinct. But we grew and migrated and quite surely we populated this world.

About a month ago, 78 thousand people applied for a one-way ticket to Mars with a Dutch company intent on settling that planet in 2023.  So we may be fruitful and multiply Mars as well. Who knows? We may even have an interfaith minister and/or yoga teacher among that lot.

Some marvel at our ability to move out of Africa and populate an entire planet. On the other hand, some may call it an infestation; crowding out other species, causing massive extinctions and putting a grave strain on our resources.

How did this happen? Well, we have a long history and prehistory of adaptation to our environment. But there is a religious backing to this population growth. Of all the commandments, from all the scriptures, in all the world the one commandment we fulfilled beyond anyone’s dreams is found in the Jewish Bible; Genesis 1:28. “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth.” What an incredible command given to Adam just after he was created. He is ordered to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” We INDEED have been fruitful and we INDEED have multiplied! And our numbers are still growing. This world is silly with humans! And getting sillier. We have filled the world with our species, the most adaptable apes to walk the earth; homo-sapiens. It may be wise to rename our species homo-populatus. (A word I made up) So, let us congratulate ourselves! Let us give ourselves a good pat on the back! We have indeed fulfilled this dictum.

However this verse offers an array of interpretations throughout the traditions that also populate this world. Christians claim it more generally. Raymond C. Van Leeuwen , a professor of Biblical Studies at Eastern University in Philadelphia writes in “Christianity Today” that this verse “..teaches that our sexuality can be properly fulfilled only in the secure garden of delights we call marriage .” He writes, “Outside the bounds of marriage, sex is like luscious fruit that God has said is not for us.” But he claims that “Be fruitful and multiply’ is not a command, but a blessing for “what God does for and through humankind.”

This may be a blessing for some, but this verse has been used also to define marriage, deny birth control and prohibit women’s reproductive rights. It has also been a salvo against population control.

Yet, people are taken aback by how quickly crowded our world has become in the past 100 years. Over-population violates our stewardship of this world. The Prophet Muhammad said, “The worst problem is to possessplenty of children with inadequate means.” He was speaking to families, for sure, but it applies to our world family, also. Yet, the Koran also has its dictum. “Procreate and abound in number.”

Religions across the world vary on their ideas concerning contraception. In Hinduism, Gandhi was against it, but, Indian philosopher, Radhakrishnan, and author, Tagore, encouraged it. The Dharma (a doctrine of moral codes for Hindus) emphasizes the need to act for the sake of the good of the world. Chinese religions emphasize the importance of balance and harmony in a society. Family planning is encouraged in both Taoism and Confucianism.

This is not an essay about birth control, but merely a look how the commandment can play differently. Couples do more than create children through the act of sexuality. They create pleasure for one another. They deepen intimacy and togetherness. Children are beautiful and offer hope for our species, yet, it is good to know there are other ways to be fruitful and multiply. I, not having children, am grateful for this. Can we be fruitful and multiply in other ways? What would happen if we are fruitful and multiply education? We can be fruitful and multiply equality, respect, diversity, hope. We can be fruitful and multiply joy, devotion, or even sweet, deep compassion for everyone despite backgrounds, beliefs, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or gender.

We can and are commanded to be fruitful and multiply love … Think about it. Be fruitful and multiply Love … Multiply love AND fill the earth.

Now that is a commandment worth fulfilling.