I have never watched the reality show J&K+8 nor given the show a moment's thought in the last five years. Yet, now I think something's changed at the moment of their critical mass. Coincidence? Hardly. At just the right juncture, I’m interested and perhaps providentially so. At least, that is how it seems to me.
Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents and main "characters" of the show, set themselves up as a Christian couple trying to raise a big family on TV. Their verbal commitment to God and faith linger somewhere above their heads throughout the show’s current four-plus seasons. Kate regularly goes on speaking engagements to mostly Christian audiences, and her name is splashed on many Christian magazine covers announcing interviews inside. A family photo graces the cover of a new book, titled Multiple Bles8ings. But right here, right now, Jon and Kate’s marriage is imploding on national television.
And I'm thinking, ‘Is there anything about this family situation that is healthy at all?’
Fertility is a god
I wrote about the idea of fertility treatment on a previous blogpost, particularly as it concerns Christian couples struggling with infertility. The Gosselins’ situation, unknown to me at the time, perfectly mirrors the situation I talk about right down to the issue of suddenly having many more babies than expected. Their first success using technology gave them twins. Kate wanted a third child, but they cancelled a potential adoption midway through the process in favor of returning to fertility treatments. This time, the sextuplets that caught the attention of a cable TV network were born. Nowhere online did I read that they questioned whether their choices and consequences were aligned with God’s wisdom, yet Kate claims “It’s what God wants for us.*” Even Amazon.com’s editorial review (from Publishers Weekly) of their book states that “she and Jon…decided to accept the extreme challenge God had handed them.”
What God handed them? I believe the conventional understanding of providence involves considerable less control and knowledge over an outcome than what the Gosselins have experienced. Knowing the risks and potential consequences, they circumvented infertility (infertility being a circumstance uncaused by them) to have multiples by artificial means (a circumstance caused by them). How else does an infertile couple go from zero to twins to sextuplets in such short order when they only wanted just one more baby?
The answer is that fertility is a god. Today, instead of erecting physical idols that might grant the next generation of children, livestock, and crops, many go to a clinic where its practices often result in too much of what was wanted (along with consequent “reductions”--ahem, abortions--as remedies). For couples that find themselves unable to have children naturally, the quest to change that through any means necessary can be all consuming, driving even the most well intentioned wannabe parents to take measures beyond godly limits. As Christians, we are most often sensitive to the pro-life position regarding the end of life, but rarely have we thought carefully about the pro-life side of the creation of life. Kate acknowledged the probability of multiples the second time around. “We were told that there was a possibility of four, but we were truly unaware that there were seven on the day that our procedure was done, or we would not have gone through with it,**" she states in an interview. With the potential for a minimum of four more children, did they stop to ask themselves if they were crossing into recklessness by creating more lives than was their intent? If human life is as precious as we say, then we do harm to the children conceived in numbers beyond parents’ normal ability to handle. One thing is true about the use of infertility treatments: many couples may be stamping Jesus’ approval of decisions made without Him retroactively based on the results rather than on principle and responsibility.
Even in the one of the cheesiest near-foreign movies ever made (Bruce Lee’s The Game of Death), the plea to respect life stands out as a universal, objective good; in particular, it is a good that is found within the whole counsel of God. It is about time we apply the whole counsel of God to the subject of infertility and its treatments and realize the bioethical limitations that must exist. To want children is blessed. To avoid ethical pitfalls surrounding the issue of fulfilling this want is equally blessed, if not more.
(Next: The Morals of Jon and Kate Plus 8 Story, Part 2)