Saturday, March 25, 2006

Only A Religious Revival Can Save The Old Europeans

I am a theological modernists who perhaps hypocritically believes it best that most people are members of an organized religion. Yes, please do as I say---and not as I personally do. Such behavior is conducive to the raising of a family. More importantly, it is mandatory if one is trying to encourage couples to have large families. Modern, secular families, rightly or wrongly (I don’t wish to engage in a values debate) usually prefer one or two children. The Old Europeans are desperate. Their indigenous populations are rapidly declining. Will the younger couples of these countries have more children merely because it supposedly is a good idea? I doubt this very much. There is only one factor which could change their minds: a religious revival. Old Europe needs to be reconverted to its Catholic/ Protestant roots. Heck, I would settle even for a mass conversion to the Mormon Church. Can anyone offer a counter argument?


terrye said...


There are plenty of counter arguments. Ever read Brave New World?

Charlie Martin said...

I thought we were just worrying about the progress of religion --- Islam --- in Europe?

Fresh Air said...


There may be some good counterarguments, but the thing is it's like democracy: It's the worst form of government except for all the other forms of government that have been tried.

History really can't display any periods when population rose without religion to spur it on, at least in some sense. I suppose the Romans or the Spartans may have had periods when families were encouraged to propagate so the state would have more warriors. But that doesn't seem to be a very useful argument for modern argument.

In fact, IIRC a number of European countries have tried to encourage the populace to be more natalist, with no effect.

I'm afraid they've already drunk the poison, it's just going to take another 40 years for its full effect to be felt. If you haven't seen this brilliant piece by Mark Steyn on that very subject, please read it.

terrye said...

Well you know until the very recent history there was no such thing as really effective birth control [unless one counts abortion] and so the rate of child birth was high for lack of a means to stop it. In recent years there has actually been a decline in the birth rate even in third world countries if birth control was available.

I know a lady in her 60's whose Mom had 13 children and religion had nothing to do with it. None of those children had more than three kids. I think that is very common. People just do not want big families any more.

truepeers said...

Well, if the EU were broken up and there was a reinvigorated sense of national or constitutional purpose (people having some sense of a shared covenant - need not be a racial kind of nationalism, though perhaps that might help from a breeding p.o.v., it must be admitted)... This of course is not to suggest that I hope fascism or some such is the answer; i would much prefer they find faith in Christianity again, though i can't see Christianity without a reworked sense of national covenants working - Christianity alone cannot construct a viable politics. This might mean more an American form of Christianity like Pentecostalism than the traditional European churches serving in a reworked division of church and state.

But the one factor we need to consider more is simply this: what will the effect of living in close proximity to an imperialistic and dogmatic and law-giving Islam (that has perhaps detonated a nuke or two) do to postmodern secular people? It may cause a reaction that takes many forms (some might even convert to Judaism!), united only by a common hate for Sharia. Who knows what might happen when the PC dam breaks and it is permissible to reject or at least marginalize more than Jews and Americans again?

truepeers said...

Also, if the welfare state goes bankrupt, and all of a sudden people are much more on their own...?

Rick Ballard said...

"Also, if the welfare state goes bankrupt, and all of a sudden people are much more on their own...?"

We're going to find out soon how that problem is resolved. History provides little comfort.

truepeers said...

As for Mark Steyn, the piece fresh air points to is in some ways brilliant but it also shows up Steyn's weakness:

Demography doesn't explain everything but it accounts for a good 90 per cent. The "who" is the best indicator of the what-where-when-and-why.

-But demography is not a serious or fundamental explanation of causality, it is merely a key indicator of the way things are going. People have children, or not, because of what is going on in their heads. And to write off Europe, as Steyn does, because of present demographic trends is to deny that Europeans can change their ideas. Steyn becomes a kind of fatalist who really doesn't give a damn about Europe and doesn't try to explain how the west - the side he still presumes to take - could survive without it.

We need to give more attention to building up peoples' faith in their faith, and its future, rather than straight-lining demographic trends and pronouncing inevitable national-cultural death.

Here's an example of Steyn's reasoning: Why does Australia have
an English Queen, English common law, English institutions? Because England was the first nation to conquer infant mortality.

-Well, North AMerica was well on the road to anglo dominance well before England (or Scotland or Ireland) had conquered infant mortality. Australia is Anglo because the English were the kind of people to go out and build their nation, whether in boats or laboratories, or Ireland.

truepeers said...

There's a new blog, Galliawatch, that is providing insights into what is going on in France by keeping an eye on French bloggers. For example, what to make of the recent street brawl between leftist youth and black punks who seemed to have attacked the white anarchists just because they could? See here and here. PC lines may soon disappear in France.

Fresh Air said...


I think you are right in that Steyn does exhibit some blinkered reasoning. However, in the recent New Criterion article that was a fuller exposition of the Australian column thesis he does examine the causation issue, and he attributes it to a cocktail of irreligiousity, nihilism and socialism.

I think he cares deeply about Europe, he just thinks people need to be hit over the head with a club sometimes to appreciate the demographic trainwreck ahead.

I agree.

Syl said...

There may be some Europeans who become more religious, but that will be out of fear. Some will convert to Islam even.

And if they become religious due to fear of the future, that is NOT conducive to having more babies--quite the contrary. I imagine they'd not want to bring little children into such a horrible world.

But those who are truly secular now I imagine would become even more so when the PC wall comes crashing down, and begin to hate all religions with a fervor yet unseen.

chuck said...

...he attributes it to a cocktail of irreligiousity, nihilism and socialism.

It is very difficult to determine *the* basic cause. However, we can all have opinions. My guess is that the cause is the decline of the extended family. Family is no longer the center of social life nor does the extended family offer the support it once did. Children no longer play such an important role, they are no longer seen as the continuation of the family line nor will they take care of us in old age. Who relishes the role of family patriarch these days?

I think the modern economy militates against children, both by encouraging consumption as a goal in life and by separating parents from their children for much of the day. Who has time for children when both parents are competing in the rat race? I think this aspect shows up in the urban/suburban split. The former caters to the single person who goes out to socialize and be entertained, the latter caters to the stay at home.

It's lifestyle, not religion.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


Very few people are truly secular. They just convince themselves they are.

A real religion, almost by definition, must be believed in at a level below the conscious mind. As soon as Christianity became an object of rational discourse it began to die. But it has been replaced by other belief systems just as vigorous. Like the Ecological religion.

Peter UK said...

Religion has very little to do with the decline of the birthrate in Europe,the causes are social and economic.
Children have been priced out of many peoples reach by high taxation,housing costs,the longer financial liability imposed on parents through funding their offsprings education.Children can be a burden into their late twenties,parents cannot by and large support big families.

High standards of living mean that both parents have to work,many women have careers rather than "jobs".Many do not have children until late in life because of their own extended education and careers,this inhibits the likelihood of large families.

In the UK tax burdens have militated against married couples with families,favouring single people,with the result that many choose to live alone.
This also pushes up house prices,further exacerbating the problem.

Becuase children are,in economic terms a net liability,legislation keeps them out of the workforce until they are sixteen,an age where in mant peasant societies children are working,the is a disincentive to raise a larger family than can be afforded.

There is no need for large families to look after the parents into old age since the state has usurped many of those functions.Further because we are living longer children can themselves be old when the time comes for them to care for the parents and in need of care themselves.

The hedonism of western society precludes the sacrifice required to raise large families,the culture shock to those used to a freewheeling lifestyle is too great.

The state however bears much responsibility for the decline in families,our own deranged government sees the greatest achievement for the individual is to be a member of the workforce.To that end the cry is for more child care so the mother can go to work.,essentially everybody moving over one,mothers becoming workers whilst other mothers look after their children.

terrye said...

It is not just about selfishness, having children is not having a litter of kittens. Gale's daughter almost died having her son and is now terrified to have more children.

I have seen Amish women with a dozen kids at the age of 40 who looked 60.

truepeers said...

Peter says the causes are social and economic, not religious; but these are two sides of the same coin. All the economic forces that Peter mentions are very real. But it is clear that religious people are better able to mediate them if the goal in mind is children and community. In the US, e.g., the religious have a higher fertility than the secular. This is true of CHristians and Jews, and I imagine other groups too. I believe the Mormons have the highest fertility and a lot of these people do well enough in the modern economy.

The reason is that religion serves to defend productivity (economic and reproductive) against the allures of consumption. Ritual and dogma provide norms that resist the ever-circulating values and desires traded in the marketplace. By giving people dogma and stable models and institutions and friends in them, religion provides a way to resist the market while partipating in it. This demands sacrifices, but these are not so hard if you can find a spouse and friends willing to share them; and if these sacrifices are made it is not so hard to have children and still find a place in the economy, if perhaps somewhat more humble than that aspired to by those who will have fewer children and "great" careers. One consumes less, one focusses ambitions differntly. But there are people doing it and having healthy families, neither too big or small.

The religious connection to a sense of subsistent Being (aka God) speaks to an anthropological reality that exists whether God does or not. By fostering this connection in church, religious people become more attached to the human present and future, more focussed on the fact that our origins are communal, however individualistic we have become thanks to economic pressures.

Even the secular academics are more and more interested in the anthropology of the sacred and moving in the direction of reconciling faith in religious life with Enlightenment rationalism. The paradox on which David centers this post can be better understood and mediated, if never completely unveiled. We may all help save our culture by a renewed respect for the sacred and the sense of a subsistent or eternal Being that goes with it, whether we are religious or not.

Peter UK said...

All the religion in the world cannot obscure the fact that for the middle classes two parents have to work to put a roof over their family's head.
State education is now so dire that house prices near good schools has rocketed,opting out means the added expence of private education.Home schooling requires at least one parent only works part time.
Government has reudced the married tax alowance to the level where it is beneficial to divorce and live together as single people.
Parents are responsible for the costs of university education even when the offspring are over the age of majority.
A twentyfive year old couple in the London area who want their children to go through higher education are looking at the prospect of being in debt past retirement age.Very few men or women alone earn enough for a mortgage in the South of England.
There is an excellent control group on which to test the theory of religion as a spur to procreation,the Catholics do not have large families anymore.

truepeers said...

There's no doubt that if we are going to survive into the future there are going to have to be strategies to resist the market's own self-destructive qualities (it needs producers and consumers, but these can't presently reproduce themselves because of the market's demands...)

Much of the schooling system is ridiculous - a waste of time and money on a grand scale and needs to be reformed. Housing: part of the problem is that everyone wants a nice big place of their own (families where generations live together will do better in the end - see the immigrant hordes). Part of the problem is that housing has become a great store of wealth that is not made accessible to the young - it would be a lot easier to raise children if many did not have to wait for their likely future inheritance. Again, this problem could be, and often is, addressed by families sharing new values, or even perhaps by wise state policies.

The big cities in history have so often, if not always, been parasitic - needing immmigrants from the countryside to maintain themselves. London may one day crumble under its weight or become largely some kind of immigrant slum, if it isn't already. The future will largely be born in other places than in the grand homes of today. It has always been this way.

But the fact remains, those who want to survive will be those with the strategies to allow this. I'm not saying all religions offer good stragegies. The decline of what are often called "mainline" churches is evidence of this. I imagine serious Catholics still have somewhat higher fertility on average than the secular, but I'm not thinking about the big families of old. A group can resist the market's demands, but only so much.

The modern marketplace is an outgrowth of Christianity - an attempt to maximize on earth the Gospels' call to human reciprocity. But there are limits to how much we can pursue sacred models on earth, which is why many serious "Christians" today are scandalized by their marketplace.

Everything sold in the consumer marketplace is packed with meaningful symbols and valued accordingly. A nike shirt can command twice or more the same shirt without the swoosh. But one need not buy into every particular relationship to the sacred. Muslims are less prone to participate fully in the market because they reject the kinds of relationship to the sacred that it proposes. Consequently, what they have to do to reproduce their relatively immiserated lifestyle in much of the world involves less energy.

There are hard lessons here that we're going to have to find our way around, or kiss it all goodbye.

truepeers said...

There's a more economical way to make my point: it seems that it is some of the more "primitive", or unsophisticated religious practices that are best suited to survival in the modern rational marketplace, putting into question just how irrational are religions that looks highly irrational to the intelligentsia. Most learned people still refuse to acknowledge this paradox, let alone begin to find ways to reconcile themselves or their families to it. But the Enlightenment and the sacred are going to have to come to terms if the west is to survive.

Peter UK said...

I'm afraid that for most houses are not very grand at all,but simply command a high price.Whilst property is a capital asset,it is primarily a debt against the future realisation of which more debt can be accrued.
It is the hypothetical increase in value which gives the false impression of wealth. If one has to live in the house,that increase can only be realised if one moves somewhere cheaper,and if the mortgage can be covered.

There are a number of problems which impede mobility,jobs,children's schools,family,travel costs and most of all the enormous cost of housing in certain areas.
One can be a paper millionaire with the value of of a small terraced house,many in the South East of England realised the capital in their property and moved,usually to somewhere cheaper and more picturesque,this then distorted property values and rendered housing beyond the reach of the locals.
Further,a home is frequently the only asset that people have to secure their old age.Giving the house to the family drags one into inhertance tax,leaving the only option of selling the house to keep the beneficiaries out of debt.
Lastly it is immigration, divorce and jobs which has distorted the housing market,London for example,does not need more people,it need fewer.

truepeers said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.