Past the grove of cypress trees Walter—he had been playing king of the mountain—saw the white truck, and he knew it for what it was. He thought, That’s the abortion truck. Come to take some kid in for a postpartum down at the abortion place.
And he thought, Maybe my folks called it. For me.
He ran and hid among the blackberries, feeling the scratching of the thorns but thinking, It’s better than having the air sucked out of your lungs. That’s how they do it; they perform all the P. P.s [post-partum abortions] on all the kids there at the same time. They have a big room for it. For the kids that nobody wants.
1. Philip K. Dick, “The Pre-Persons” (1974). Available in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories. (New York: Citadel Press, 1987), 275-296.
In 1973, the Roe v Wade decision inspired Philip K. Dick to envision a world where children were unwanted and adults were free to alleviate their unwanted burdens with the help of the “County Facility.” In his short story, “The Pre-Persons,” Dick tells the story of Walter, the twelve-year-old boy who is traumatized by the thought that his parents did not want him. All around him, he knows children by name who have been taken, kicking and screaming, by the van. Fully legal, these children have the life sucked out of them, all because the parents did not want them.
Through the use of dystopian satire, Dick shows what happens when children are unwanted.
To date, white vans are not circling cul-de-sacs looking to pick up “the kids nobody wants,” but that doesn’t mean children are any more safe. Planned Parenthood “targets minority neighborhoods” to offer up their unwanted children. Walgreens and CVS just decided to stock its pharmacies with the abortion-inducing pill, mifepristone, so that unwanted pregnancies can end by a pill in the privacy of one’s own home. The Supreme Court of South Carolina just defended abortion by ruling that abortion is protected by the right to privacy. And in 2021, Senate Democrats blocked the passage of the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, while this year 210 voted against a similar bill, which would protect children who have already been born.
Is our world much different than Walter’s for unwanted children? It doesn’t appear to be. And yet, it’s not just these direct assaults that endanger children, it is the social imaginary behind them. A social imaginary is like a worldview, only with less thought and more feeling. And today, a predominant social imaginary is one that envisions a world unencumbered by children. That is to say, our culture’s images of human flourishing are those without kids. To give one example where childlessness is presented as a blessing, consider the ad campaign by Hilton’s Home 2 Suites.
2. A “social imaginary” is a term coined by Charles Taylor in his heavily-cited A Secular Age. Following Taylor, Kevin Vanhoozer, Hearers and Doers, 8, defines it this way: “The social imaginary is that nest of background assumptions, often implicit, that lead people to feel things as right or wrong, correct or incorrect.”
On their Twitter feed, Home 2 Suites, has sold their brand by centering it around pets. Scroll through their timeline and you will find countless dogs and zero kids. And lest we think this is accidental, here’s their pet-centric mission statement: “From stylish suites w[ith] kitchens to free breakfast and amenities that focus on sustainability, Home2 Suites is perfect for guests and their pets.” Whereas families may have been the primary focus of hotels in another era, today Home 2 Suites envisions a different world. In fact, what alerted me to this branding was the picture I saw recently in a hotel elevator. In it, this same man, woman, and dog pictured above are found under the caption: “Bring your whole family.”
For all those dog-lovers out there, I am not opposed to animals, and neither is the Bible (see Prov. 12:10), but we should all be aware of the way ‘dog moms,’ ‘fur babies,’ and pet-friendly hotels are remaking the modern family. Or to put it more generally, Home 2 Suites is both reflecting and reinforcing a social imaginary that implicitly celebrates a childless life. And this social imagery is what fuels antipathy towards unwanted pregnancies.
Being True to Who? Me, Myself, and I vs. God’s Family Plan
Since Roe v Wade, we have not only seen a tidal wave of on-demand abortions, but we have seen a generation (or three) making self-expression their god. As Ross Douthat has observed with respect to our modern entertainment culture, the children growing up in the 2010s are little different than the children growing in the 1990s. This means the values shaped by television, and then the Internet, and now Tik-Tok, have compounded the way parents and their children see the world. And what does this have to do with abortion?
The short answer is that while the children born in the last fifty years have grown up seeing ultrasounds—a fact that has pushed the needle towards protecting life—they have also come of age imbibing an endless loop of artists, advocates, and advertisements that make God’s first command (“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”) appear unrealistic, if not ridiculous. Consider a sample of modern objections Genesis 1:28:
With what? Children? Well, maybe. But right now I have my career, my partner, and my pet. Isn’t that enough?
Sure, we’ll have a child, maybe two. But not too soon. And not till we’re ready.
Fill the earth?
No, that’s oppressive. I’d rather enjoy the earth and not ruin the environment with having too many kids.
5. See the Time Magazine cover article from August 2013 celebrating this mindset: “The Childfree Life: When Having it all Means Not Having Children” by Lauren Sandler.
6. See the Forbes article from May 1, 2020, “New Study: Millennial Women Are Delaying Having Children Due To Their Careers” by Ashley Stahl.
7. I previously addressed this subject in an essay entitled, “Children: A Blessed Necessity for Christian Marriages.”
8. The myth of overpopulation is persistent and creates a misplaced incentive for couples to intentionally not have children, and to justify this choice as somehow ethically virtuous.
9. The connection between birth control and climate can be seen in this Boston University article, “Why We Need a Contraception Revolution.” As the caption reads, “Forty percent of the world’s pregnancies are unintended—and as population increases, so does the strain on the environment.”
These responses reflect the spirit of our age. Add to them the sex education offered in public schools, the disintegration of healthy families, the ubiquity of hook-up culture, and the economic (and social) costs of raising children, and is it any wonder that “unwanted” is a sufficient justification for seeking an abortion today? After all, when a society often treats mental trauma indistinguishably from physical trauma, it seems reasonable to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. After all, don’t I need to take care of myself? Isn’t sacrificing myself for others a form of self-harm?
Thankfully, there are husbands who see children as unqualified blessings (Psalm 127:3–5; 128:2–3) and wives who see motherhood as noble calling (Prov. 31:28; Titus 2:4–5). There are churches who teach the value of life from conception to coffin. And there are marriages that open their homes to orphans, adoptions, and foster children as the expression of true religion (James 1:27). Yet, for all those who are “wanting” children, we need to recognize how odd this familial impulse is. Our secular world trains non-binary individuals to live for themselves, not others. And so, unwanted children are treated as inconveniences . . . until they aren’t.
Yes, children are still desirable, but only when the timing is right. That’s why women, and many companies who hire them, will pay extraordinary rates to freeze their eggs. Likewise, research is being conducted to incubate children outside the womb. As long as we live in God’s world, men and women made in God’s image will desire children. But as Scripture teaches us, not all desires for children are the same.
10. Consider this heartbreaking statement from The Guardian: “Despite the high costs and low success rates, many women . . . are prepared to get into debt to preserve their fertility.”
11. In a future that looks like A Brave New World, Prof. Joyce Harper, author of Your Fertile Years, states, “I have no doubt that at some point, most people will be produced by IVF.”
For example, Cain, in his pride, delighted in his son and named a city after him (Gen. 4:17). In their anxiety for the future, Lot’s daughters opined for children so much that they liquored up their father and lay with him (Gen. 19:30–38). Similarly, Sarai’s attempt to produce an offspring led to the use of Hagar as a surrogate (Gen. 16:1–6). Micah’s mother loved him so much that she blessed him—even when he stole from her (Judg. 17:1–3). And still others live for their children, as if there is no tomorrow (Ps. 17:14).
In short, Scripture is filled with unrighteous longings for children. And so, the solution to a world of “unwanted” children is not simply a world “wanting” children. No, we need to go back to the Bible to see the bigger picture, to learn what God thinks about children.
The Need for a Biblical View of Children
If the problem in our country is the fact that children are portrayed as inconvenient and are justifiably purged when “unwanted,” we need more than a campaign that says, “Don’t do that.” If the moral fiber of our country has run out, and Genesis 1:28 has been laughed out, then we need to do more than shout down the wickedness of abortion. We need to rehabilitate an entire view of the world. That is to say, we need to go back to the God who has made us in his image and see what he says.
Editor’s note: Check back next Monday for part two of this two-part series, where David Schrock elaborates in a longform essay on four steps to rehabilitate the social imaginary for the sake of children.