This week Roy Scranton wrote a stirring op-ed for the New York Times called “Raising My Child in a Doomed World.” Frankly it’s not a headline you would have seen before 2016. Now, this rhetoric is everywhere. Fictional dystopias are no longer phantasms of who we could become, of where we might go, but of who we are—‘commentaries on the state of things.’ Amidst all the fear, Scranton confesses an interesting conflict:

I cried two times when my daughter was born. First for joy, when after 27 hours of labor the little feral being we’d made came yowling into the world, and the second for sorrow, holding the earth’s newest human and looking out the window with her at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed. My partner and I had, in our selfishness, doomed our daughter to life on a dystopian planet, and I could see no way to shield her from the future.

I heard a similar thing this past week in an interview with Lauren Groff, whose recent collection of stories Florida is getting a lot of media attention. Several of the stories, she said, were inspired by a sense of dread, largely due to Florida’s volatile ecosystem and a general anxiety about her children’s future.

To save on postage, let’s go straight at it and open the discussion about climate change to include all of our modern despair: not only melting ice caps, not only wildfires and droughts, but also cancer, gun violence, terrorism, depression, addiction. Loneliness, fear, paranoia. Anxious nights alone in bed, just you and the dark—why raise a child to suffer through that? They will; we all do.

It’s actually an old question; a new wave in an old debate going back thousands of years (or more), a debate that has been a part of human history, and Christian history in particular since its inception. Because when you get around to realizing that people are bad, you have to ask yourself, why make more? Alternatively, if you aren’t convinced people are bad, but you are convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket, then you have to ask: why send an innocent soul along for the ride?

This was precisely the question (one of many) raised by Marcion, an early Christian heretic who called for extreme celibacy in the 2nd century because, in his view, procreation itself was evil — for the very reasons described above. Having children was inexcusable. To bring new victims into the suffering world; to trap innocent spirits in organic bodies. The body was evil, vulnerable to sickness and death; it was, as Marcion’s followers would say, “a nest of guilt.”

In their response to all of this, early Christian writers like Irenaeus affirmed the essential goodness of the body as God’s creation. That was a tough sell, as history shows. A similar debate persisted in early Christendom, and ascetic factions broke off from the mainline church, arguing that procreation was evil, and the body was evil — Montanus, for example, believed procreation to be a distraction from the second coming; the Cathar movement of the 12th century discouraged its higher-ups from reproducing at all.

In his op-ed for the Times, Scranton cites two environmental scientists who argue that “the most effective steps any of us can take to decrease carbon emissions are to eat a plant-based diet, avoid flying, live car free and have one fewer child — the last having the most significant impact by far.” So it’s not only that by having a child you may be dooming that child to a life of misery on Earth, but you’d also be exponentially increasing your own carbon footprint. Having children makes you bad.

Similarly, the unifying strand of the early Christian heretics was a suspicion that the body was impure but, with right actions, could be purified.

Last year cultural theorist Claire Colebrook wrote a fascinating piece called “End-Times for Humanity” at Aeon:

That the world will end (soon) seems to be so much a part of the cultural imagination that we entertain ourselves by imagining how, not whether, it will play out. But if you look closely, you’ll see that most ‘end of the world’ narratives end up becoming ‘save the world’ narratives…

If today ‘humanity’ has started to express a sense of unprecedented fragility, this is not because a life of precarious, exposed and vulnerable existence has suddenly and accidentally interrupted a history of stability. Rather, it reveals that the thing calling itself ‘humanity’ is better seen as a hiatus and an intensification of an essential and transcendental fragility.

If we believe humanity doomed, we are only just noticing its inherent fragility. Our sense of doom is ours, not our circumstances’. Writer Ottessa Moshfegh illustrates this powerfully in her new novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, in which the narrator becomes so depressed she takes a year off to sleep. Importantly, the novel takes place in the year 2000, pre-9/11—before the terrorist attacks, before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, before the savage 2016 election and its bitter political fallout. The book takes place in a time of opulence and hope, yet the narrator is inexplicably miserable; her problem, in other words, is not circumstantial but personal. The end times are personal. Doom is personal.

In our current moment, we believe doom is impersonal, find the cause of it outside ourselves, in the people who don’t recycle, for example, or in the people who support the other party. But the unmentionable root of dread remains the same as ever: a gently slumbering guilt.

In this respect, Marcion and his followers got (at least) one thing right. The body is a nest of guilt. We feel guilty for bringing children into the world, for not bringing children into the world, for bad relationships, for good relationships that could be better. We feel guilty about climate change and environmental upheaval, about racism, about sexuality, about animal cruelty, about plastic bags, about what we said to our partner before work this morning. Now media, too, feels guilty and is coming to terms with the sins of its past—under-representation, bias, social blindspots—and the outpouring of liberal guilt and verbal policing is profuse.

Under the pressure of all of this, the only thing left to do is blame-shift, slug off the weight of it onto other people. Thus, as Colebrook predicted, our “end of the world” narrative has become a “save the world” narrative: for example, “Don’t have kids or, at least, have less kids.” Scranton takes this line of thought, and heightens it:

 …the only truly moral response to global climate change is to commit suicide. There is simply no more effective way to shrink your carbon footprint. Once you’re dead, you won’t use any more electricity, you won’t eat any more meat, you won’t burn any more gasoline, and you certainly won’t have any more children. If you really want to save the planet, you should die.

Back to Marcion and the other heretics: what they don’t seem to be taking seriously is the love of a parent for his or her child; the love of the shepherd for his or her sheep— “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the very end.” Scranton, even in his twenty-first-century guilt-ridden fatherhood, reflects the power of this love:

When my daughter was born I felt a love and connection I’d never felt before: a surge of tenderness harrowing in its intensity. I knew that I would kill for her, die for her, sacrifice anything for her, and while those feelings have become more bearable since the first delirious days after her birth, they have not abated. And when I think of the future she’s doomed to live out, the future we’ve created, I’m filled with rage and sorrow.

The father loves his child and mourns the injustice of the world around her; is willing to die for his child. Not only willing to die, but willing to suffer every affliction, to live in the world that is wracked with despair. This should all sound familiar.

As far as I can tell, the world may well end at any moment, or, perhaps, slowly, at the destruction of our own hands. I do take the science seriously. But in any decade, Earth is a hard place to live; in any time period, childbearing is terrifying, because it makes us responsible for something. Responsible yet, in Christ, absolved. Terrified yet, in Christ, loved. Perhaps no one describes this cocktail of absurdity better than young Father Robert Capon in 1965—I’ll let him take it from here:

We have come to a calamitous involvement. What are we doing here, in position ridiculous, at pleasure transitory, with results disastrous? What will we not cause? What consequences to self and others? Indeed, what others will we not cause? Children! Independent beings to go forth to their own births, involvements and deaths; to love, to skin their knees, to have their hearts broken, and to lie in other trenches, distant but not different from this. I am Abraham. I pick up the knife and fire when I beget. This bed, this trench, is cut across my line of march. I can crawl along it, but not past it. It is a lateral passage, a byroad to Mount Moriah, a side trip into terror. All the rosy marriage books about the joys of procreation, all the neat, even true, theological niceties about its being my share in the creative process, leave me literally cold—with fear and trembling. The only comfort is my first comfort—that it is absurd and therefore sane. In terms of its actual results—in the real and logical framework in which all such treatments try to put it—it remains insoluble, absurd, the square root of -1. It is only when taken as insoluble, and when put into another framework, that it begins to give answers.

I am not being obscure; let me say at once, in plain English, what that framework is. It is the Cross of Christ, where God Incarnate works to reconcile the broken and dishonored fragments of the City by being himself broken and dishonored. If I were not invited into that mystery, I do not think I could afford to be honest about what a calamity we are all in. Only Christian marriage has a real chance to save nature. Not that mine is very natural—it can’t be, because it isn’t very Christian; but the truth remains. The disciple is not above his master; the Cross is foolishness, and the marriage bed is absurd. That much rings true. So far, so good.