A World Without Children

The year is 2021, and the entire male population of the world has mysteriously become sterile. For 25 years, not a single baby has been born. This is the imaginary scenario painted in P. D. James's latest book, The Children of Men, recently out in paperback. James built her reputation as a mystery writer. But her most recent book is in a very different genre. The Children of Men is an anti-utopia, apparently an allegory of the culture of death spreading today through abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia. James imagines a world where all adults are free to pursue careers and personal interests without the responsibility of caring for children. The government also relieves them of the responsibility of caring for the elderly through a policy of euthanasia. You might think this would be an adult heaven—a world of freedom and individual self-fulfillment. But with no future to build toward, people drift into apathy. Schools close, libraries decay, scientific research stops. With no hope of creating a better world, no one cares about justice, charity, or even democracy. Instead, all they want is guaranteed "freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom." In Britain, where the story takes place, a benevolent dictator takes power, promising to deliver the mindless security that citizens demand. To keep them entertained, the dictator opens pornography shops. To keep them safe, he sets up a penal colony on an island, where all criminals are dumped for life—even minor offenders. Churches merely imitate the spirit of the age. Instead of a message of sin and redemption, they offer a feel-good gospel to comfort a dying civilization. Yet there are some who refuse to be comforted. The unfulfilled nurturing instinct pushes some people over the edge. Unbalanced women cuddle dolls as though they were children. Deranged couples wrap dogs and cats in lacy blankets and demand christening services. In some cases, the elderly resist the government's euthanasia program, but they are drugged into compliance. In a parody of a religious ritual, they are dressed in white gowns, paraded onto barges, and then drowned. The story climaxes when a young Christian woman finds herself pregnant. The British dictator—like a modern King Herod— wants to claim her baby, so she flees and gives birth in a wooden shed in a forest. P. D. James seems to be making an allusion to Bethlehem—pointing back to the birth of the Child there as the only antidote to the culture of death. You may want to read The Children of Men for a vivid picture of the direction our own society may be heading. But don't expect the book to entertain you; it's more likely to disturb you with its ominous vision of the future. People often wonder if the human race will be destroyed by some external threat: by nuclear war or ecological disaster. But P. D. James is a church-going Anglican, and she seems to be warning us that we just might destroy ourselves from within—if we continue to embrace a culture of death. As Christians, our message should be that the only sure antidote is a return to Bethlehem, and to the Child who was born there.


Chuck Colson


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