I had always assumed that Brave New World was the sort of book you were supposed to read as a warning rather than as an instruction manual. Unfortunately, it seems that many got the wrong end of the stick and read it thinking, “Hey, that’d be a great idea. Let’s try it.” And so more than 80 years after it was first published, many of the ideas it contains – lab fertilisation, made-to-order babies, and sex as a multiple-partner hobby – are here with us and have now passed into the realm of “perfectly normal.”
So normal in fact that we are now meant to receive these things uncritically. There was a fine example of this on the BBC earlier this week in an article that treated readers to the plight of the national sperm bank, which has so far failed to attract the numbers of donors its management were expecting. Here’s how the Beeb’s piece on this far from uncontroversial project began:
“Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain’s national sperm bank in Birmingham.”
The use of the words “Just nine” in an article that goes on to uncritically report on the national sperm bank as a normal and good thing is a rhetorical device put in there to throw undiscerning readers into a state of thinking that this is an awfully small number and that something must surely be done about it. Just nine. So few. Isn’t that terrible?
And indeed something is going to be done:
“It [The national sperm bank] is now planning a recruitment drive, with chief executive Laura Witjens saying that appealing to male pride may be an effective way to boost donations. She has suggested a new campaign featuring a cartoon superhero, echoing a successful strategy in Denmark. If I advertised saying ‘Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are’, then I would get hundreds of donors. That’s the way the Danish do it. They proudly say, this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, Lego and sperm. It’s a source of pride.”
Here’s a general rule for life: if you ever become involved in a practice considered by many to be ethically dubious, and you find yourself having to resort to cartoons in order to sell the idea, then it’s probably a good point at which to stand back and ask yourself if you are really doing the right thing. I mean, virtuous behaviour doesn’t ordinarily require Spiderman to commend itself, does it?
The picture Ms Witjens paints (or rather the cartoon she draws) is of a certain type of man. He’s a fine fellow. He is strong. He is virile. He loves his beer. Maybe even his Lego. He’s a man’s man. Oh and he’s prepared to bring a child into the world and absolve himself from all responsibility for that child’s upbringing. What a hero!
What’s so wrong with that, someone asks? Isn’t he helping someone to have a child that they otherwise couldn’t have? Conservatives might ordinarily answer that question with phrases like “It’s playing God” or “We don’t know what we’re doing meddling in this way”. That’s all true, but there’s another angle that we should note.
We are meant to be relational creatures. Everything about us screams this obvious truth. The fact that we can talk to one another. The fact that we can laugh with one another. The fact that we can weep with one another. Along with a thousand other things. We are made to be relational, and therefore fathering a child through sperm donation – the antithesis of relational living – is basically a fundamental denial of what it means to be fully and truly human.
Let me bring this down to a personal level. I have sixchildren. I know them all by name. I see them every day. I eat with them. Iwork to provide for them. I take them places. I put them to bed. I talk to them. I laugh with them. I occasionally weep with them. I love them and know that they love me. They love me and know that I love them. None of this is done as well as it should be, of course, but isn’t this the type of relationship that fathers should be aiming for?
Meanwhile, what of Victor Virile, the Vanquishing Viking Sperm-Donating Superhero? He never sees his children. He never eats with them. He doesn’t work to provide for them. He’s never taken them anywhere. He doesn’t talk to them. He doesn’t laugh with them. He never weeps with them. There’s a reason for all this. He’s never actually seen his children, doesn’t know their names, and if you ask, he won’t even be able to tell you how many children he has. Is it four? Maybe it’s more. Come to think of it, he is probably “father” to numerous half-siblings throughout the country. That’s yuk, isn’t it? But he doesn’t much care.
Actually, it’s worse than that. He thinks he’s done a good thing. A bit like donating blood. He has helped the couple who couldn’t have children, and the single woman who wanted a child, and the same-sex couple. Lives have been brought into the world through him, haven’t they? So it must be okay, right? Well no, that’s just confusing the fact that God often brings good out of evil with the idea that he is actually putting the stamp of approval on the evil. But the evil is seen not in the child that is born into the world, but rather in the fact that that child’s father doesn’t even want to know them.
It is no exaggeration to say that fatherhood is the biggest social issue of our day. It is the fundamental factor that determines how well society functions. When fathers are behaving like fathers should – loving their children, providing for them, relating to them – there you are likely to get a happy, hard-working, contented generation growing up. When fathers are abusive or unloving or absent, watch with sorrow as an angry, discontented, and often nihilistic generation – desperate for father-love – arises.
Do we really need more Victor Viriles, men who are propagandised by cartoons into giving away their sperm before vanishing from the lives of the anonymous children they have helped bring into the world? I don’t think so. What we need is real fathers. Fathers who delight in their children. Fathers who love their children. Fathers who devote themselves to having a real and proper relationship with their children. Real men that is, not cartoons.