If you’ve ever watched 42 Kids and Counting, you might have noticed that the Duggar family has an abnormal number of children. You might wonder if they’ve ever heard of birth control or if it’s possibly a polygamous family where the children have a variety of mothers. You might think, perhaps, that some of the children are adopted. If you listen to the introduction to the show, you’ll hear the mother say that she delivered every single one of them. Jealous?

The Duggars have a plethora of children not because of luck, faulty birth control or adoption; they are actively trying to have as many children as possible. The Duggars are perhaps the most famous family in a movement called “Quiverfull.” I think Quiverfull sort of sounds like some sort of naughty urge, but it is actually a religious thing. The name “Quiverfull” is taken from from Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.” The father is the warrior and the children are the “arrows”. They’ve taken the command “Be fruitful and multiply” very, very literally.

Quiverfull families deliberately leave all birth control in “God’s hands”. That means the women don’t use birth control at all, not even natural family planning. They view many types of birth control, such as the pill and IUDs, as a form of abortion. Women are encouraged to become maternal missionaries – a phrase coined by Mary Pride in her thrilling epic “The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality”. (I think her book reads a bit more like “Before Feminism, the Way Back to The Stone Ages”). Women are serving an important mission for God by having lots of children and demonstrating good maternal behavior.

The Quiverfull faithful have two main goals. First, they are submitting to God’s will. He decides how many children the family will have. The families are demonstrating their faith by allowing God to control the size of the family. Secondly, they’re creating a sizable generation of Christians. It’s their way of stocking up for the future. The more faithful children they produce, the more Christians will have control of the country in the future. Ah, what a wonderful world it will be when they outnumber the heathens.

Quiverfull isn’t attached to a particular doctrine. They embrace many of the Catholic teaching on birth control but the movement is generally attached to evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. The concept of wifely submission is important in the Quiverfull movement. The households are patriarchies. The man is clearly in charge and the women are encouraged to submit to their husbands’ leadership.

You can just imagine how Quiverfull people feel about feminism. They tend to view the women’s liberation movement as a tool of the devil. It splits apart families, promotes abortion, sends women to work outside the home and promotes divorce. Women are corrupted by feminism which leads to them abandoning their God-given roles as wives, homemakers and mothers. Daughters in Quiverfull families learn their roles as caretakers early. Because the families are large and the mothers exhausted, older daughters are given responsibility to take care of younger children.

It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of Quiverfull folk, but no one knows for sure. Two concepts that Quiverfull families often adopt are homeschooling and homesteading. It’s probably no surprise that a highly religious group would opt for homeschooling, where they can control the content and avoid concepts like evolution and women’s rights. Homesteading is a philosophy of self-reliance. These are not groups that have large families and rely on public assistance. Instead, adherents live simply. They make their own clothing, grow vegetables and live simply.

Women in the movement often opt for natural childbirth and sometimes, home-birth. It’s interesting because many home-birth supporters are much more liberal than the average Quiverfull family. However, they share many of the same ideas about birth as a natural process that does not require medical intervention. Anna Duggar’s home-birth was filmed (no lady parts were on display). Also, not surprisingly, many of the Quiverfull mindset choose to homeschool their children.

The Duggars are an interesting example of the lifestyle in that they are extremely financially secure (partially due to their TV series). This is the exception rather than the rule. Many large families struggle to make ends meet. It can put a great deal of stress on a large family and can lead to fractures in marriages. If women want to leave the Quiverfull lifestyle, they often feel trapped. The women have been out of the workforce for a long time and many never worked outside the home. The lack of job skills partnered with the high costs of childcare can be daunting. These women often have few resources to help them build a new life because their community generally does not approve of divorce.

I went to some Quiverfull websites. There were plenty of articles about the importance of wifely submission and many articles detailed the joys of motherhood. I also found lots of information on the imaginary link between breast cancer and abortion. Sigh. There was also discussion of how vasectomy can lead to prostate cancer and arthritis. Some adherents even go so far as to have vasectomies and tubal ligations reversed so that they can submit to God’s plan for their families.

If there’s any interest, I’ll explore the idea of courting in another column (I especially love the concept of defrauding). In the meantime, here is an excellent forum on the lifestyle: quiverfull.com. There is a book called “A Full Quiver”. Here is the link to the Duggar’s famous tater tot casserole. I would be so psyched if someone made it and reported back: duggarfamily.com. Also, I’m considering starting a pool about which Duggar kid will freak out and join a death metal band. There are 19 of them. You know that one of them is going to freak out.

For additional reading see: No Longer Quivering and the Quiver Full blog.