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Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement
by Kathryn Joyce
Beacon Press, March 2009
272 pp., $25.95

It's a Monday night. Two back-to-back episodes of Jon & Kate Plus 8 are on TLC. Tomorrow night the network will run Kids by the Dozen at 7 p.m., followed by four episodes of 17 Kids and Counting during its 8-10 p.m. slot, followed in turn by another round of 17 Kids from 11 to midnight. After that — if you're still awake — you can catch a few more rounds of Jon & Kate.

Looks like someone at TLC thinks big families might just equal big bucks in its current programming lineup.

Tie all that in with the media flurry about Nadya Suleman, the single mother in California who gave birth to octuplets conceived by in vitro fertilization in January, bringing her total number of children to 14, and suddenly we have — a trend? A fad? What's with all the large families? Or perhaps the real question is, what's with all of us who are watching them?

Why are we so interested in large families? Families like the Gosselins (Jon & Kate), the Duggers (17 Kids), and the Sulemans are sparking heated discussions among observers, including Christians. Outsider interest in how many children a woman has is nothing new, yet among considerations of failing Social Security and environmental concerns, this interest seems to be intensifying toward apprehension, even alarm. Women of childbearing age are used to fielding questions from family, friends, and complete strangers about their fertility: How many children do you have? How many children do you want? But these questions pale in light of the larger, more philosophical question at their base: How many children should you have?

That simple question implicates wide-ranging ...

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