Parents: Increasing and Multiplying?

God’s command to our first parents to “increase and multiply” has been taken in new, unforeseen directions. Christians and Jews now look like naïve fundamentalists by reading Genesis 1:22 as a command for two parents to multiply by producing offspring. A bill before the California legislature is proposing parent multiplication, so that a child may have more than two legal parents.

If only God had been as clever as we are, we would not need such a law. After all, as bill sponsor Mark Leno told the New York Times, “This is about putting the welfare of the child above all else.”

Without doubting the sincerity or love of any would-be parent, the question must be asked: Is this really about the children?

There are many cases where loving, often heroic, adults come forward to adopt children who have been thrust into the most heart-wrenching circumstances. The California bill does not have these in mind. Rather, it seeks to legitimate three or even four parents per child to establish what have been dubbed “alternative” or “nontraditional” families. The Times lead profile presents the two natural daughters of a husband and wife, each of whom now lives with a member of the same sex, and these two additional adults also want to be legal parents of the girls.

Such bizarre engineering has little to do with the welfare of children and everything to do with adult proclivities to demand whatever they want. In this case the desired goal is a complete redefinition of family, which includes the social and legal acceptance of any and all forms of sexual relationships between consenting adults, and, by extension, the production of children by any means possible.

A family, in this view, is any arrangement of people who wish to share a home and rear children for whatever reason. Ties of blood no longer bind; it is the will, however misguided, that dictates what constitutes a family. And when the will – untethered to nature or intellect – is the guide, there are no guarantees: what is desired today concerning family need not be so tomorrow. If that means rewriting legal statutes to accommodate the latest whim, so be it.

Whence, then, does “family” derive? Chick-fil-A executive Dan Cathy has enraged alternative family and same-sex “marriage” partisans by stating that his business supports “the biblical definition of the family unit.” This statement can be misinterpreted: the family as understood in the Christian tradition does not stem from revelation as does, for example, our understanding of the Trinity.

        Storms coming (photos by Mitch Dobrowner)

The biblical definition of family means the relationship of love and obligation between a man and woman and their offspring as part of God’s naturally created order. Christians alone believe in the Trinity, but all human beings live in the same created order, and therefore all are capable of seeing, by reason and instinct, how a family fits together – literally. Aristotle likely did not read Genesis, but he saw that family structure conformed to natural laws beyond human choice:

There must of necessity be a conjunction of persons who cannot exist without one another: male and female, for the sake of reproduction, which occurs not from intentional choice but – as is also the case with other animals and plants – from a natural striving to leave behind another that is like oneself.” (Politics 1252a27)

Human beings have always lived with an inner tension between the will (what we want to do) and nature (what we can do). Greatness occurs when the will strives to grow and develop what is natural according to nature’s own laws: athletes, artists, and architects are just a few examples of how we do this.

But when we try to contradict nature, as with same sex unions and alternative families, problems arise. The athlete on steroids and the man who jumps off a building without some flying aid show how ignoring nature can be a very messy affair.

Yet for as much intuitive sense as the argument according to nature has, in the court of public opinion the volitional approach has much more traction.  At least for the moment. The unfortunate evidence lies in the high percentage of young people who support same-sex unions on purely volitional grounds: if people love each other they should be able to marry. What the will desires it should have, they believe.

This juvenile thinking has become part and parcel of our supposedly adult legal system with its redefinition of marriage and proposals for redefining the family. Nature and its law, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observed, have become a “laughingstock” to most, and as a result they have long been banished from the legislature and the courthouse in favor of sheer volitional caprice.

So long as the untethered will remains the driving force of social discourse, politics, and legislation, the “natural family” will be just another lifestyle choice, on the same level as choosing a restaurant or a place to live. Parents can multiply in any combination, as can romantic and familial relationships. There are now no ties that bind: the peace and security that the natural family provides for its children and for society will be swept away in a tide of cupidity.

When a storm comes, we protect the treasures we have lest they be blown away. Now as the storm of the untethered will rages fiercely, we all must do our part to protect the priceless treasure of the natural family.


David G. Bonagura Jr. an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary and is the 2023-2024 Cardinal Newman Society Fellow for Eucharistic Education. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism and Staying with the Catholic Church, and the translator of Jerome’s Tears: Letters to Friends in Mourning.