Küng’s Malthusian Moment, observations by Samuel Gregg

The amazing Samuel Gregg of the Acton Institute has a great commentary on the dissenter Fr. Hans Küng, who recently published an “open letter” against the Pope

Mr. Gregg points out that in his letter Küng resorted to a Malthusian warning about global overpopulation. The letter, writes Samuel Gregg, “shows just how much he remains an unreconstructed creature of the 1960s.”

My emphases and comments:

Hans Küng’s Malthusian Moment

By Samuel Gregg

In April, the world received yet another global missive from the 82-year-old Swiss theologian, Fr. Hans Küng. Perhaps the world’s most famous Catholic dissenter from Catholic teaching, Fr. Küng’s “open letter” to the world’s Catholic bishops contained his usual critique of the papacy and his now-tediously familiar prescriptions for changing the Catholic Church.

Almost 31 years ago, Rome and Germany’s Catholic bishops stripped Küng of his license to teach as a Catholic theologian because, by Küng’s own admission, he does not believe in some central tenets of the Catholic faith. Some would say Rome’s action was merely an exercise in ensuring truth in advertizing. This has not stopped Küng, however, from continuing to exhort Catholicism to adopt the path followed by many mainline Protestant confessions in the West since the 1960s.  [Which have worked so well for them, too!]

As George Weigel has noted, Küng’s letter is full of misrepresentations and shoddy logic. Moreover, Küng seems oblivious to the sociological fact that those Christian communities which have embraced paths similar to that which he advocates for Catholicism are in a state of terminal collapse. Devoid of doctrinal coherence, they are often led by clerics for whom God’s existence and Christ’s Divinity are open questions, whose conception of morality is as relativistic as your average lefty-secularist, but who purport to know with absolute certainty that the world is headed for a climate change-driven apocalypse[LOL!  Folks, strive never to get on the wrong side of Dr. Gregg.]

There was, however, one claim in Küng’s letter worth further scrutiny. This was his assertion that Africa – and, by extension, the developing world – is suffering from an “over-population” problem, and that, by implication, Catholicism’s 2,000 years of unbroken teaching on the subject of contraception is dooming millions to poverty and starvation.

It’s hardly a secret that many people disagree with Catholicism’s position on contraception. But Küng’s claim of an “overpopulation” problem in the developing world shows just how much he remains an unreconstructed creature of the 1960s.

Theories concerning a correlation between rapid population growth, poverty, and strains on existing resources have been around since the time of the economist Thomas Malthus (incidentally, an Anglican cleric).  [TA DA!]

Since Malthus’ death in 1834, his theories have metastasized. In the 1960s, neo-Malthusian ideas achieved new prominence, thanks to the writings of scientists such as Paul Ehrlich. Ehrlich’s 1968 book, The Population Bomb, predicted that the world’s population growth would lead to mass starvation for millions, famines sweeping the globe, skyrocketing commodity-prices, and the dawn of an insurmountable scarcity of resources.

None of these predictions came true.

What Ehrlich and others who have imbibed the “overpopulation” Kool-Aid perennially discount is humanity’s entrepreneurial genius. The economist who did the most to highlight this point and discredit Ehrlich’s thesis was the late Julian Simon. In his book, The Ultimate Resource (1981/1996), Simon illustrates that the price-rises associated with increasing scarcity of a desirable resource generate incentives for entrepreneurs to discover more quantities of that resource, more efficient uses of that resource, and, eventually, substitutes for that same resource.

In short, given the right institutional conditions and incentives, humans are remarkably good at creating more than enough wealth to feed, cloth, and house increasing populations far beyond basic subsistence levels with enormous surpluses of capital left over for reinvestment – and all without ruthlessly plundering the natural environment. From this perspective, an increasing population can be seen as beneficial: the more people, the more potential creativity and entrepreneurship.

The problem with neo-Malthusians like Ehrlich and Küng is that they see humans primarily as economic consumers rather than economic creators. This is precisely the mentality that helped facilitate Western Europe’s coming demographic winter – a prospect that has caused Sweden (yes, that’s right, über-progressivist hyper-secularist Sweden) to create all sorts of financial incentives for Swedes to have more children. Somewhat worryingly, the U.S. National Vital Statistics Report for April 2010 shows that America’s birth-rate is now below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman.

In his 2009 social encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Benedict XVI – the primary target of Küng’s most recent public venting – spelled out the economic logic of a declining birth-rate. “The decline in births,” the pope wrote, “falling at times beneath the so-called ‘replacement level,’ also puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their cost, eats into savings and hence the financial resources needed for investment, reduces the availability of qualified labourers, and narrows the ‘brain pool’ upon which nations can draw for their needs” (CV 44).

In this regard, Pope Benedict shows himself as not only more prescient than Hans Küng in terms of helping Catholicism avoid the fate of those Christian communities that have embraced the vacuity and incoherence of liberal Christianity. He’s also a better economist.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    The 1960s did not have Internet search engines, so Küng was unable to search for:

    Benedict Harvard condoms Africa AIDS

    to find:


  2. Maltese says:

    I was (un) lucky enough to have been present at an event Hans Kung gave years ago at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor; he adamantly advocated for abortion, to the great applause of the crowd!

    He’s an ass. In fact, he’s the inner-most part of an ass-hole. He denigrates the faith, yet pretends to be part of it. He presents himself, with his shiny shock of greying hair as a Barthian theologian, but he’s nothing but an aging, dying charlatan of a ‘theologian’. He too will draw his last breath, and meet the Lord.

  3. MisterH says:

    The Population Research Institute has a neat video series on the overpopulation myth. The three videos, which are short and very creative, can be viewed at the following link:

  4. Mike Morrow says:

    Kueng the Klown is a darling of the novus ordo types. Naturally, he and the novus ordo types [“Novus Ordo types”? Who would they be?] must attempt to undermine the greatest threat to their discredited philosophical outlook, Benedict XVI.

    Benedict XVI is without any doubt the greatest Pope in my lifespan, including Pius XII who died when I was in first grade. He is a magnificent leader of the type that I never expected to see again, after the novus ordo types corrupted the Church 45 years ago.

  5. What exactly are “novus ordo types”, Mike? [I wondered about that also.] I know many who are not particularly interested in the traditional liturgy or perhaps even in a reform of the liturgy (though they might be given formation), but who strive to be faithful Catholics. I think we must be careful with regard to both terminology and generalisations. It does the cause of liturgical reform no good, but rather quite the opposite as people are not to blame if they take offense and feel alienated by such expressions and the implication of the statement that they are by definition dissenters who would appreciate Hans Küng. If you have a narrower definition of “novus ordo types”, it would be better if you find a different way of expressing the intention behind it, because, again, I would not blame many people I know for feeling as if you might be referring to them and being highly offended by the implication.

  6. Henry Edwards says:

    You make a good point — essentially, that the term “novus ordo types” has little utility in contexts like this.

    In any event, I know lots of people both in my TLM community and in my local (“Novus Ordo”) parish church. I’m not aware of a single person in either category who “loves Hans Kung” (or might if they knew who he was).

    Though I rarely if ever encounter them personally, there probably are some parishioners who share some of Kung’s views, but I would instead call them “Catholic dissenters” (and may even have on occasion referred to “our non-Catholic parishioners”). Actually, these benighted folks likely are no more seriously interested in the Novus Ordo Mass than in the EF Mass, so it might be an unwarranted compliment to call them “Novus Ordo Catholics”.

  7. Sam Schmitt says:

    Just. Ignore. Him.

  8. MichaelJ says:

    While the phrase “novus ordo types” is needlessly confrontational and adds little in this context, in all fairness (and bluntness) it really is not that far off the mark.

    It is inconceivable that a Catholic who exclusively attends the traditional Mass would support or agree with any of Fr. Kung’s theology. Perhaps there are some bi-polar Catholics who can reconcile the contradictory theology expressed by the Traditional Mass and that expressed by Fr. Kung, but I seriously doubt it.

  9. Nathan says:

    All, I would gently suggest that we’re being a bit harsh on Mike Morrow. The point that “Novus Ordo Types” is an unfair generalization is valid, especially in the current context, but I remember hearing the term quite a bit back in the trenches during the 1980s and 90s. It was a convienent shorthand for the advocates (not necessarily everyone either in the pews or on the altars) of the wholesale liturgical, ecclesiological,and theological upheaval of the time. In the current context, we might use the term “advocates of the hermeneutic of rupture,” which in and of itself encompasses a number of different philosophical and pastoral approaches.

    While it may have not been accurate or (at times) charitable, it is understandable that when those who are in legitimate authority over you as your shepherds call you “reactionary,” “stubborn trad,” or treat you with the injustice that many who love the TLM suffered for thirty or so years, you come up with terms like this as a personal defense and as a means of trying to make sense of what happened to the Church you love.

    In Christ,

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    Well said, Nathan (as usual). You might well have heard plenty about “Novus Ordo types” in the trenches with me in the 1980s and 90s (and maybe even more recently). So perhaps my particular caution was directed more at myself than at Mike Morrow, for whom I have lots of respect and (I suspect) more than a little trench experience in common.

    My caveat would be based on the distinction between the Mass itself and the wider ethos of rupture it which it is imbedded, and which is associated with a general disintegration of not only liturgy but also faith and devotion, catechesis and discipline, … . Roughly parallel to the distinction between Vatican II and its infamous spirit (which has thoroughly betrayed the Council and given it a worse name than it deserves).

    Looking back at Mike’s post now, it seems clear to me that he was thinking not of liturgy alone but of ethos and spirit. In which case, perhaps “novus ordo types” was not sufficiently pejorative for reference to those dissenting types he had in mind.

  11. Nathan says:

    Bravo, Henry. Your distinction between the Mass itself and the wider ethos of rupture is spot-on.

    In Christ,

  12. Nathan says:

    One side story re “Novus Ordo Types.” In the trenches, I enjoyed hearing the term “Novus Ordinarian.” It sounded, when you said it, like you were Southern gentility (we were Southern poor folks): “Miss Mary Lillian, who was reared in the Episcopal Church, fretted for weeks at the thought of being laid to rest next to a Novus Ordinarian.” Or, “Zeke refused to visit his sister in Charleston; he had heard about the roving bands of Novus Ordinarians.”

    In Christ,

  13. Henry Edwards says:

    I must admit, Nathan, that I have certainly seen roving bands on the streets of Charleston, but without realizing that they were Novus Ordinarians, thereby remaining blissfully unaware of the peril I was in.

  14. Kate Asjes says:


    Has anyone here noticed that, where God is at work, one finds abundant life? Vibrant parishes have lots of babies. Makes perfect sense to me that where God removes his hand, the growth of population slows–or vice versa–where man turns away from God the population begins to drop. God’s work is always regenerative, literally. Wonder how Fr. Kung would respond to that idea…

  15. Hans says:

    Okay, now that it has been established that Fr. Küng is an embarrassment in so many ways, is there some way we can stop associating the name ‘Hans’ with him? No?

    You make a very good point, Kate.

  16. I became a Catholic in 1977 because I believed in what Tradition and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teaches.
    I professed private vows to the evangelical counsels as a lay person in 1983; as a monastic with perpetual vows in 1991. I was ordained a priest for our community in 2003.
    Hans Kueng has no relevance to any of my life commitments.
    He espouses everything I left behind when I became a Catholic.
    I pray for him; he’s in big time doo-doo…God help him!
    If I had read or believed what he writes or teaches, I’d stay Methodist, as I was raised.
    Why go through all this hoop-la if the Pope isn’t relevant, the Eucharist is not Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, Mary isn’t the Mother of God, we are all going to be saved, no matter what we do?

  17. And, in addition: I never believed in the “overpopulation myth” that espoused abortion and contraception…never.
    A grace?
    Yeah. I think so. I was pro-life from the moment I heard about Roe v. Wade; and, I could never understand ‘preventing’ conception by artificial means.
    I certainly am “not a product of the ’60s and 70’s”.
    God must have been at work with me. Sexual communion between married people was always to be open to new life, as far as I was concerned.
    I guess I missed something:<)!

  18. Nathan, I don’t think it is harsh to ask someone for a definition and point out that they should avoid the use of a term that is not only inaccurate and thus unfair in the sense in which a reader or listener might well be justified in understanding it (even if the defintion of the term used by the person themselves may not be uncharitable or unfair) but, because of this, damaging to the very cause one is trying to promote.

    It might have been a convenient shorthand, but it is not helpful and thus not particularly convenient when it comes to advancing the cause. It might also be an understandable response to unjustified attacks upon oneself and the cause one holds very dear from not simply personal motives but because one believes it to be extremely important to the greater glory of God, but we must remember that the behaviour of others do not justify our own conduct. By this comment, I do not, however, intend to presume that Mike meant the term as an uncharitable generalisation. My point is more that, even if it is not intended as an uncharitable generalisation, it may well and understandably be read as such, and therefore alienate people from the traditional Mass and the cause of a reform of the reform rather than further understanding and impart grace to the reader. Bluntness can be good, but the use of terms that work against one’s purpose is hardly convenient, and it is never sufficient to refer to the practices of others as justification for one’s own. Though I know we all sometimes do react to error and attack with terms or behaviour which may not be helpful, but then it is sometimes good to have this challenged.

  19. I know for sure that I need my own use of terms and/or my own behaviour challenged on many an occasion, even if it was a reaction to something harmful to the Church.

  20. MichaelJ, sadly, and I very dearly wish this was not the case, it is possible to be a passionate supporter of the TLM, even in this day and age where one often has to go out of one’s way to assist even irregularly at a traditional liturgy, and still hold very seriously heretical views.

    I wish to say further to your comment that I do recognise that charity often does not prohibit, and, in fact, sometimes requires bluntness, but it never requires the use of needlessly confusing language which may understandably offend those which should not (and may not in fact) be its intended target.

  21. MichaelJ says:

    I stand by my original statement that “It is inconceivable that a Catholic who exclusively attends the traditional Mass would support or agree with any of Fr. Kung’s theology.”

    Whether Traditional Catholics hold other seriously heretical views, I cannot say, but imagine that they would be the same as the population at large.

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