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Palm Beach Post (US), June 29, 2007

COLUMN: Overpopulation problem, sadly, self-correcting

By Steve Gushee

DATELINE: SAO PAULO Brazil -- Population growth may be the greatest obstacle to a green world.

The teaching of most religions, frozen in a biblically underpopulated, undeveloped world view, does not address the problem.

That needs to change to prevent a disaster of biblical proportions.

More people means greater clearing of undeveloped land, more greenhouse gases, increased consumption of finite resources and potential disaster.

The bad news is that, if unchecked, population growth will inevitably render the environment less able to sustain life. The good news, equally horrendous, is that unchecked population growth will ultimately solve the problem.

Famine, war and pestilence triggered by competition for nearly exhausted resources will quickly reduce the population to manageable levels. The poor and the weak, the ones those religious groups say they most care about, will bear the brunt of the looming chaos. No one wants that solution.

Still, the Roman Catholic Church, most Muslim groups and many Protestants refuse to accept the use of contraceptives in family planning.

To be sure, that increases the death rate due to AIDS and perversely helps check population growth, but no one is proud of that side effect of discouraging contraceptive use.

In a classic example of "strange bedfellows," the Vatican has joined Islamic representatives at the United Nations to prevent that body from encouraging family planning in the developing world.

Our evangelical president, George W. Bush, gives tax money to underdeveloped countries but blocks use of the money to make birth control accessible.

Those who read Scripture literally are driven by the early myths of Genesis that urge humankind to populate the Earth. Roman Catholics set theological decisions based on those propositions in infallible cement. That makes it very difficult to acknowledge the need to change.

They cannot easily rewrite either Scripture or the theology fashioned from it. They insist that the word of God or the prior decision of the church based on that word are without error.

That prevents the needed recognition that times change, and theology needs to change, as well. The biblical world that once welcomed a growing population and invited development is long gone.

No longer need we be obedient to the biblical imperative to populate the Earth. Now we need to save it from our too numerous selves.

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