Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rebirth of Western Religion

With the spate of religion-bashing books coming out in the last year (by well known authors including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Michel Onfray, Victor Stenger) one might be tempted, and some are encouraged, to believe that the prophesy “Gott ist tot” of Nietzsche’s famous madman has finally come to pass in the Western world. Yet all these books have about them “an odd defensiveness -- as though they were not a sign of victory but of desperation.” In Western Europe it appears that the madman was right, but everywhere else on Earth religion is surging.

The secularist story line goes like this. “As people become more educated and more prosperous they find themselves both more skeptical of religion's premises and less needful of its consolations. Hence, in the long run, religion, or more specifically the Christianity so long dominant on the West, will die out.” Indeed, what one sees in Europe today are elderly altar servers in childless churches attended by mere handfuls of pensioners. “If God were to be dead in the Nietzschean sense, one suspects that the wake would look a lot like this.”


Yet two leading secularism theorists (Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, 2006) have noted that in fact “secularization theory is currently experiencing the most sustained challenge in its long history.” Not only that, but as Robert Royal observes, “three centuries of debunking, skepticism, criticism, revolution, and scorn by secularists not only have failed to defeat religious belief, but have actually enhanced its self-defense.” (The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, 2006. See also Peter Berger, The Desecularization of the World: Resurgent Religion and World Politics, 1999)

Now, in a scholarly piece by Mary Eberstadt of the Hoover Institution (“How the West Really Lost God”) secularist theory is put to the test of reason and empiricism. “What secularization theory assumes is that religious belief comes ontologically first for people and that it goes on to determine or shape other things they do -- including such elemental personal decisions as whether they marry and have children or not.” Hence the plummeting birth rates in Western Europe outside the Muslim communities.

Norris and Inglehart, for example, clearly state the cause and effect.

“Secularization and human development have a powerful negative impact on human fertility rates. Practically all of the countries in which secularization is most advanced show fertility rates far below the replacement level -- while societies with traditional religious orientations have fertility rates that are two or three times the replacement level.” When stated that way the outcome seems inevitable: the death of the West through the inexorable tide of demographics.

However, Mary Eberstadt asks why must the cause-effect vector be as is commonly assumed? Might not the decline of childbearing come first, then driving the decline of religiosity?

The Western European data seem to support that time-reversed point of view. What demographers call the “unprecedented and overall sustained fall in birthrate that characterizes Western Europe today” began in France in the late eighteenth century, but in Britain, which was then richer than France, the decline started a century later. In each case the decline in churchgoing kicked in 1-2 generations later. In Ireland the birthrate decline followed by the religious decline occurred within one generation (from 1970 to 2005). European fertility in general dropped well before the dramatic demise of religious practice seen today.

Eberstadt argues convincingly how the act of creation and child rearing encourage parents into communion with something larger than themselves, in communities of like-minded believers (ie in church). There are even fewer atheists in the nursery than in the foxhole. For the details check out her paper at
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/06/how_the_west_really_lost_god.html

This new perspective goes a long way toward explaining one of the most puzzling aspects of American exceptionalism. Richard Dawkins posed the problem this way: “The paradox has often been noted that the United States, founded in secularism, is now the most religious country in Christendom, while England, with an established church headed by its constitutional monarch, is among the least. I am continually asked why this is, and I do not know.”


The 2007 Princeton Survey found that 91 percent of Americans believe in God, as opposed to 6 percent agnostic and 3 percent atheist. Might it be because we are still having babies? And it is not only Hispanic immigrants who are having babies in America. Birthrates are well above replacement level among well-educated and well-off Orthodox Jews, Mormons, Evangelical Christians and Catholics.

Seen in this light the death of the West is not inevitable. Fertility rates have waxed and waned throughout history. (The low birth rate among Roman patricians was of sufficient concern under the emperor Augustus as to result in the imposition of the family-friendly Julian laws.) Today there are many socio-economic forces (see Social Security) that could well drive a baby boom in the highly secular countries of Western Europe, Canada and Japan. If that happens the appeal of religion will rise and the death of the West, and of God, will be averted.


We should all hope so because the alternative is grim indeed.


19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bill;
Interesting post. Leaving out "organized religion" polls show belief in God in the U.S. at 91%. 6% agnostic & 3% athiest. Have you run across any European statistics on this same question of God, Agnostic & Atheist?

Mike

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for an interesting article. However, I think the correlation of declining birthrate with increasing economic status is much more positive then the effects of religion. As societies become more industrialized, more women are in the work force and birthrates drop.

This process seems to be bringing the birthrates of immigrants down to the level of the rest of US society.

Rick

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Historically, all major civilizations have depended on cheap labor, whether through slavery, hordes of children, legal and/or illegal immigrants. Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt were slave holders, as were many of the European countries into the 16th and 17th centuries. It's interesting that slavery was ended in all major countries before the U S took that step, and then only because of a costly war.

In my own ancestry, families with ten or twelve children were normal. They needed the kids to do the farm work, and besides, they lost a lot through diseases etc. With the rise of the corporate farm, the preferred source of cheap labor seems to be illegal aliens (you don't have to pay them as well or treat them as well as citizens or legal aliens.)

Second generation Americans are reproducing at about replacement level, which makes good sense. We're outsourcing the good jobs, and young people are priced out of the housing market. Fewer children, given a bigger head start, seems the only sensible way to go.

Religions have always tried to maximize reproduction, except perhaps the Jews. Catholics say that the children of mixed marriages must be raised Catholic. Mormons initially encouraged polygamy. Back in the midwest, I had Catholic friends - young married couples, who delayed having their first child till they got their finances firmed up a bit. They were soon visited by the parish priest, who told them that birth control was a sin.

The percent of non-religious in this country seems to vary a few percentage points according to who takes the survey, how the questions are phrased, how the subjects are selected, etc. But in well-designed surveys, the non-religious seem to come in at about 14%. This is greater than any one religious group, except the wholly Roman Catholic church.

It is claimed that the secular countries in Europe are healthier societies than the more religious societies such as the U S. Evidence includes a lower crime rate, lower divorce rate, a smaller gap between the rich and the poor - in other words, the things which the religions claim to be their goals.


Norm

4:16 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Rick,
Your observation is of course correct. But my point (Eberstadt's) is that the birth rate declines before the decline of religiosity. Religious participation wanes because of the dearth of children, not the other way around. Thus the decline of the birth rate and of religious participation is reversible, if only women will stop listening to the feminists and have babies!

4:47 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Norm,
My thesis was that child rearing drives religious participation; thus both downward trends can be reversed. I believe that would be a good thing. You take issue with my punch line.

Your first two paragraphs argue that children are no longer necessary on the farm or to fill good jobs that we're outsourcing. Interestingly, you seem unaware of the booming (good) job market and the unprecedented home-ownership rate. They may not find their first homes in Manhattan Beach or Palos Verdes; or is that an expected right? Even illegal aliens are buying homes.

Worse, you completely overlook the major problem that follows from a falling birth rate. Who will pay for the retirements of our grandchildren? If you want to see the sad future, look first at Russia, then Japan then Western Europe. They are already in deep tapioca because of their ageing populations. And immigrants are a mixed blessing -- witness the Islamization of Europe.

And speaking of the blessings of secular societies: I'd like to see your data on the lower crime rate, lower divorce rate in the secular European countries. Please look at the trends also. If you're interested in a sobering look at the social heaven in England, for example, take a look at Life at the Bottom or Our Culture, What's Left of It, both books by Theodore Dalrymple, a Brit.

4:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,

I think this is the first time I have ever agreed with you on anything so I thought I should say so. Business Weeek had a story that Spain had opened its borders completely to Muslims from North Africa because of their ageing population and that it was stimulating their economy like gang busters.

Dick

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting news, Dick;
I can picture this happening. But I wonder what will happen when they have a voting majority. I don't know if a Muslim country has ever established a democracy or a representative republic. Maybe one has. I hope so. But Moslems tend to look toward the comming of a Great Leader who will not only conquer infidels but will also solve all of their own problems.

Mike

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norm,
I think Bill's got some essence here. The consequential social disruption is all bad and will spread with more disastrous implications for the economy. The race between these unavoidable problems and their difficult solutions has potentially catastrophic implications for the country. World population problems can't be solved without regard for really bad local consequences we could suffer for doing more than our share. I think Bill's right - we need to increase the middle class birth rate a bit for a few decades.

Phil

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dick, what a fascinating situation--'twas so interesting that I dug up the Business Week article and read a bit more about Spanish immigration, several NY Times articles about Spain, and a UN projection about the serious Spanish ageing problem. The following are facts that may prove of interest to y'all (I'm trying to avoid entering the daily passion-producing subjects these days):

* Most astoundingly to me, the largest bloc of Spanish immigrants since the 1990s are from
Ecuador(!)-- a zillion miles away--since this little country doesn't even "look at" Spain, emigrants must go thru the Panama Canal.
* The next two "providing countries" are Morocco-- the Muslim country almost touching Spain-- and far-away Romania.... three quarters of Spain's immigrants are from Latin America and Europe.
* The immigrant numbers include approx. 800,000 Ecuadorians and somewhat over 500,000 Moroccans.
* Sizably over 50% of Spaniards regard Muslims as "fanatics" (from a 2006 poll)......A May 29, 2007 NY Times article notes that the half million Moroccans represent a recruitment pool for militant groups as they reported Spain's arrest of 16 North Africans accused........
* Lower interest rates and a healthy dose of aid from Brussels have helped spark the Spanish recovery (they've averaged 3.1 % growth over the past five years). (Incidentally, Brussels' aid was also a key element helping to thrust Ireland to the highest GDP/capita in Europe and in direct competition with the US for the highest GDP/capita in the world.)
* Spain has a startlingly low birth rate of 1.2 children per woman, one of the lowest in the west (whassamatter with these Catholics?!#) Recalling that Spain has a population of approximately 44 million, these figures from the UN are amazing: Spain needs on average 260K immigrants/yr. during the next 50 years to maintain a constant working age population (15!-64 years. But to maintain the current potential support ratio (number of working age people per older person) they need an average of 1.58 million (!) immigrants per year until 2050.
All of Western Europe has a generally impossible ageing and low birth rate problem; similar problems are facing Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the UK.
How lucky we are to be living in America; I wait with baited breath to read how we're going to whip all our middle-class citizens into generating all those kids needed to avoid these problems.

Burt

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Burt;
Very informative Post from an apparently very interesting article. I wonder why the relatively huge immigration from Ecuador. Maybe Spain had closer ties to that country, as opposed toother South American countries. I can see why they need a larger work force. Maybe something like that will happen to us as the "Baby Boomer' generation hits retiement age. Born 1946, you hit 61 this year. It's coming and its coming fast.

Mike

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently there are 3.9M illegal immigrants in Spain, of which fewer than 1M are seeking to be legalized. The statistic for Ecuador must be considered in this context, because the 20% Ecuadorian number is apparently from those seeking legal status.

See
http://www.expatica.com/actual/article.asp?subchannel_id=82&story_id=4276
http://www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=331

Sam

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill,

Excessive child rearing (more than two or three per family) is not only unnecessary, but undesirable from various points of view. You cite all those "good" jobs available, but many people have to hold down two or more jobs to provide for their families. Things are fine for the upper-middle class, but below that people are under pressure to accept lower wages, reduced their standard of living, and compete with Asian workers who get 50 cents an hour. Examples: airline employees, supermarket employees. Larger families mean lower standard of living and/or more welfare dependence. A century ago, one more mouth to feed on a farm didn't make a huge difference. Also today's American puts a huge demand on natural resources, energy, water, habitat, etc, compared to his ancestors.

The financial page stories I've read indicate that the percent of Americans who can afford to buy a house is shrinking. Of course, some of them have gone he subprime lender route, only to get deeper into trouble. The accepted wisdom a generation ago was that you could buy a house valued at 2 1/2 times your annual income. I bought in Manhattan Beach following that rule. Today no aerospace engineer could do that - he'd have to locate east of Riverside.

Who'll pay for our grandchildren's retirement? Why shouldn't they? The social security system provides an annuity related to the duration and amount of your contribution. It has it's own cash stream , supposedly separate from the general fund. And it was never intended to be a full pension, or to be passed on to heirs. If you lived long, you collected more than you paid in, but if you died early, you lost out, just like any annuity.
The blue-ribbon commissions which periodically "tweaked" the system to make it sustainable (most recently, one chaired by Sen. Moynihan) generally did a good job. But they haven't sufficiently accounted for increasing life span. In the 1930s, a retiree (at 65) could expect to collect for 11 years. Now, it's over 22 years. The retirement age of 65 was established by Bismarck over 100 years ago, when life expectance at birth was less than 50 years. Now I believe it's about 77 years (for men). The retirement age should be increased enough to bring the ratio of workers to retirees back into balance. (I paid in for 50 years, and retired at 72.)


The statistics for my "healthier societies" claim are available from various sources, but if you poke around Google, you can find them. I first read the unsupported claim by a writer in Church and State magazine. But the statistics back him up. For example, the divorce rate in the US is not the world's highest, but those with the lower rates are generally the European countries and Japan. In the US, born-again Christians have the highest divorce rate (34%) mainline protestants (25%) Catholics (21%). Divorce rates among conservative Christians were significantly higher than for other faith groups, or for Atheists and Agnostics. I noticed even James Dobson (Focus on Family) bemoaning the higher divorce rate among his flock. www.religioustolerance.org


A few crime statistics:
Murders per 100,000. Russian federation, 18.07, United States 6.342, Spain 1.08, Japan 0.58
Rape per 100,000: United States 34.20, England and Wales 14.69, France 13.38, Spain 3.23
Serious Assault per 100,000: Australia 713.68, England and Wales 405.20, United States 57.94, Spain 23.94, Japan 15.40.
http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=3231

So obviously there are other factors than religion involved here, but I think that the general statement that the secular societies are healthier is borne out.

Norm

1:22 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Norm,
My thesis was that child rearing drives religious participation; thus both downward trends can be reversed. I believe that would be a good thing. You take issue with my punch line.

Your first two paragraphs argue that children are no longer necessary on the farm or to fill good jobs that we're outsourcing. Interestingly, you seem unaware of the booming (good) job market and the unprecedented home-ownership rate. They may not find their first homes in Manhattan Beach or Palos Verdes; or is that an expected right? Even illegal aliens are buying homes.

Worse, you completely overlook the major problem that follows from a falling birth rate. Who will pay for the retirements of our grandchildren? If you want to see the sad future, look first at Russia, then Japan then Western Europe. They are already in deep tapioca because of their ageing populations. And immigrants are a mixed blessing -- witness the Islamization of Europe.

And speaking of the blessings of secular societies: I'd like to see your data on the lower crime rate, lower divorce rate in the secular European countries. Please look at the trends also. If you're interested in a sobering look at the social heaven in England, for example, take a look at Life at the Bottom or Our Culture, What's Left of It, both books by Theodore Dalrymple, a Brit.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Thanks, Dick, for initiating another interesting thread, the Spanish story, to my blog piece. Thanks, Burt, for providing the data showing how serious this problem is. There is really no way for Spain to absorb 70 million more immigrants (on top of their 44 million population) by 2050 to be able to afford their welfare benefits. If they somehow did achieve that result, Spain would be an Islamic country under Sharia rule. Burt pointed out that with only a few million Muslim immigrants the Spanish majority regard Muslims as fanatics and a recruitment pool for terrorists. The problem exists all over Western Europe and we see some of the results in the daily Paris burnings. I pity the European Jews.

We are indeed lucky to be living in America where the birth rate is still healthy. However, the future would be a better one if more middle-upper class people would do their duty and have a few children. I have a 37 year old (already retired) son who is unmarried and childless. I lecture him constantly, but so far no cigar. Perhaps we older guys could become "active" again ...... never mind...

9:42 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Norm,
Welcome to the 21st century. All that talk about new engineers affording houses in Manhattan Beach reminded me of a former gilded age before the rest of the world discovered the SoCal beaches. At least we agree that the upper-middle class is doing fine. I claim that the middle class is doing very well also, but that supermarket checkers and airline ticket clerks are not middle class. Sorry, but low level service jobs are going to go to the lowest common denominator. And that means immigrants (many illegals) until we cut off the flow from 3rd world countries.

We also agree that Social Security needs to be reformed and I like your approach: raise the retirement age, say to 70. But guess what, SS is not called the third rail for nothing. Bush tried to institute a reform program and was pilloried for it. Democrats would rather cut off their eyebrows than approve any reform of SS. And if you tried your approach in Europe you would be lynched. That's why Europe's prosperity is doomed.

Thanks for the statistics. It's interesting that they came from the government of Taiwan. If those stats convince you that Europe and other secular countries are better places to live, then I'll say adios... I'm staying in the USA, the best nation on God's green earth.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I think the major problem is that the way our society is set up today you basically get penalized for having children.

Instead of getting cheap labor for farm work, now you lose half of your household income if mom or dad stays home to raise the kid and your cost of living goes up with an additional person to support.

How can this situation be remedied?

5:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was recently in DC standing in line for tickets to the Washington Monument and overheard a conversation citing Wolfowitz, Cheney, Perl, and Rumsfield as Jews leading the USA, and predicting a pogrom in 20 to 30 years. Let's wash the mote out of our own eye before we "pity the European Jews" too much. I am at a loss for how to handle the awful situations of today's world.

John

4:17 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

John,
Anti-Semitism is ugly wherever you find it. But I think that American anti-Semitism is trivial in comparison to the European version. Are you familiar with the journal Commentary? In the latest (July) issue, for example, David Pryce-Jones (a Brit and author of Betrayal: France, the Arabs and the Jews) writes about "Europe's Terrible Transformation." Violent anti-Semitism has been on the rise in Western Europe for a decade. In 2005, police records show that anti-Semitic incidents numbered 1682 in Germany, 504 in France and 455 in Britain. Many were horrific. The majority perpetrators of these crimes are unassimilated Muslims. (There are 20 million Muslims in Europe compared to 1 million Jews.) Unfortunately, the Muslims are encouraged by left-wing (not right-wing, as in the 30s) sentiment that blames Europe's Jews for Israel's actions in Palestine. European leftists, the EU and the UN all side with the Palestinians.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Bill, very interesting indeed .. I love reading stuff that is so hopeful for the future .. you are a bearer of good news.

Chris

2:24 PM  

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