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Archive for July, 2011

 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:28

The other day I did something I do less and less these days. That is, I turned on the “talking heads” on radio and TV to find out what nasty volley of words was being lobbed back and forth in the latest skirmish in the “culture wars”. Of course, not much had changed. Gay rights, Michelle Bachman’s latest verbal misstep, and various politicians and special interest groups claiming the moral high ground or insight into where we’ve “gone off course as a nation” dominated the conversation. Nothing new (or of interest to me)…

However, due in large part to some recent reading and studies I’ve been doing, the whole thing just struck me as fantastically odd. In my mind I can picture all of the pundits, politicians, and religious political activists, standing out in a field yelling back and forth at each other (none actually listening to one another) and in the distance on darkened skies is coming what demographers are describing as a “cyclone irresistibly sweeping south” (Van de Kaa, International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 5 2001: 3487) whose winds will drown out all the arguing, bickering, and political power grabs, ultimately showing them as ineffective in winning these culture wars. Demographers will tell you that this battle was over decades ago, and, while certainly won in the realm of ideology, the decisive strategy that came from these ideologies was one no-one considered until relatively recently, when it was too late. This proverbial ship is too big to turn around.

Around the end of the 19th century French scholars and demographers began to take note of the drastic downturn in birthrates in their country. American scholars began to notice and examine the same phenomenon near the end of the second world war. Later, in the 1980’s, demographers noticed yet another downward shift in birth rates. These began to be labelled as the first and second “demographic transitions”. These transitions were easily measured and quantified in every western nation. The results?

“Fertility has dropped below the replacement level -sometimes by a substantial margin- in virtually every population that has moved through the demographic transition. If future fertility remains at these low levels, population will decline in size and age rapidly” (Bongaarts, J., 2001, Fertility and reproductive preferences in post-transitional societies. Pp. 260.)

So what is the cause of these falling birthrates among modern western nations? Demographers the world over are mostly in agreement that as countries transition into “Postmodern” societies where there is “complete control of fertility” combined with individualism and the ultimate goal of “upward mobility”, then “couples appear to lack the motivation to have more than one or two children” (Van de Kaa, D. J. 2001, Second Demographic Transition in Industrialized Countries, pg. 2). Crudely and simply put, once a nation attains “modernity” (specifically, including the “postponement of marriage, preference toward cohabiting over marriage, increase in judicial separation and divorce,  legislation permitting sterilization and abortion”, Van de Kaa, 2001, Pg. 9 ), they are able to give full vent to their personal desires for comfort and self-fulfillment, to which having children is a major inconvenience and obstacle. Inevitably, these countries slip below the cultural sustainable birthrate of 2.1 children per family and begin to age rapidly and die off as a people. At that point, immigration becomes the vehicle by which modern nations remain populated, a phenomenon also well documented in “modern” western nations.

I recently read several books and published studies in which an increased alarm is being expressed among the “non religiously affiliated” (atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, etc.) with regard to these global demographic trends. The reason there is an increasing alarm among these groups is that if you observe falling birthrates among some groups you have to ask yourself the question, “if these people are not having children, then who IS having children”?! The logical conclusion is that whatever group has the highest and sustained birthrates, that group will eventually dominate the society. The answer? Religious “fundamentalists” of all stripes the world over.

While reliable statistics are somewhat hard to come by, the general picture is that in North America and Europe “non-religious” groups have recently achieved the largest numerical gain in absolute numbers (American Religious Identification Survey, New York University, 2008) , but globally, both by conversion and birth rates, it is Christianity (particularly of the evangelical/pentecostal brand), Islam, Hinduism, and fundamentalist sections of other religions who maintain sustainable birthrates and dominant conversion rates (American Religious Identification Survey 2008, Encyclopædia Britannica 2005, Pew Forum Religious Demographic Profiles 2005, “The List: The World’s Fastest-Growing Religions. Foreign Policy Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2007). Furthermore, we’re seeing that the opposite is true among atheists and other “non-religious groups”. According to reports from the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life, 75% of Atheists in the U.S. are childless (Pew Forum U.S.Religious Landscape Survey, 2008). In countries, like Austria, where the religious affiliation of the parent is tracked this also holds true (In Austria the birth rate of atheists is around 0.85, way below the cultural sustainability level of 2.1.).  Add to this the fact that the #1 determinant of a child’s religious affiliation is the religious affiliation of the parents, and you have a pretty dim outlook for the future of the “non-religious” and their hopes of winning the “culture war”.

In his recent and significant book, “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth” (and to save you the trouble of reading the book, his conclusion is “yes, they will”), Professor of Politics at the University of London Eric Kauffman notes:

“In an analysis of European data from ten west European countries in the period 1981-2004 I found that next to age and marital status, a woman’s religiosity was the strongest predictor of her number of offspring. Many other studies have found a similar relationship, and a whole school of thought in demography — second demographic transition theory — suggests that fertility differences in developed countries are underpinned by value differences, with secular men and women unwilling to sacrifice career and lifestyle aspirations to have children and have them early.” …”According to the World Bank, the nations with the largest proportions of unbelievers had an average annual population growth rate of just 0.7% in the period 1975-97, while the populations of the most religious countries grew three times as fast” – Erik Kauffman, “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth”

Author Casper Melville paints the picture even more plainly:

“…the assumption that modernity leads inexorably to a lessening of religious belief and a day when we are all rational humanists, is wrong – there is something about our current form of liberal secularism that contains the seeds of its own destruction. Since the birth rate of individualistic secular people the world over is way below replacement level (2.1%), and the birth rate of religious fundamentalists is way above (between 5 and 7.5 depending on sect), then through the sheer force of demography religious fundamentalism is going to become a much bigger force in the world and gain considerable political muscle. Literalist religious conservatism is being reborn and we secular liberals are the midwives.”  – Casper Melville, “Battle of the Babies”

What we’re seeing in the world today is not really a completely new phenomenon. In fact, in many ways it is a recapitulation of the dominance Christianity eventually experienced in the first few centuries A.D. I am currently in the process of reading a fantastic book, “The Rise of Christianity”, in which noted sociologist Rodney Stark successfully (IMHO) challenges some of the popular assumptions among theologians about how Christianity gained such widespread acceptance in the Roman Empire. Previously quoted author Eric Kauffman also picked up on this:

“In his remarkable book The Rise of Christianity, the American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark explains how an obscure sect with just 40 converts in the year 30AD became the official religion of the Roman empire by 300. The standard answer to this question is that the emperor Constantine had a vision which led to his conversion and an embrace of Christianity. Stark demonstrates the flaws in this “great man” portrait of history. Christianity, he says, expanded at the dramatic rate of 40 per cent a decade for over two centuries, and this upsurge was only partly the result of its appeal to the wider population of Hellenistic pagans. Christian demography was just as important. Unlike the pagans, Christians cared for their sick during plagues rather than abandoning them, which sharply lowered mortality. In contrast to the “macho” ethos of pagans, Christians emphasised male fidelity and marriage, which attracted a higher percentage of female converts, who in turn raised more Christian children. Moreover, adds Stark, Christians had a higher fertility rate than pagans, yielding even greater demographic advantage” – Erik Kauffman, “Breeding For God”

So at the end of the day, the talking heads are free to yell at each other all day long. Words and the exchange of ideas are certainly not unimportant, but they are not what will “win the day”. Atheists, secular humanists, and liberal idealogues have “sealed their fate” by being really good at adhering to their doctrines of self-fulfillment.  Their downfall will not be in failing to “pass on a better world to the next generation”. Rather, their downfall we be in failing to produce a next generation at all!

Before we Christians get too smug about our demographic dominance we would do well to consider that in the U.S. the birthrates among Christians is not significantly better than that of the non-religious. Why? Because we too have bought into the prevailing cultural winds of comfort, self-fulfillment, and upward mobility. We have stopped filling our homes with children in order to make more room for our idols. We have only our Mexican immigrant population to thank for the fact that Christians barely cling to a culturally sustainable birthrate in the U.S. (not to mention the fact that in the U.S. Christians are well behind Muslims, Mormons, and others in birth and conversion rates!).

It’s not a coincidence that’s God’s first instruction to humanity was “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…”.

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Very funny and very true! A moment of clarity for sports fans.

“We want to pay you millions of dollars to distract us from our problems. Why are you trying to mess that up, Lebron!?!”.   Love it.

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