Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Doing It Religiously

There is an interesting -- and disturbing -- article in Prospect Magazine by Eric Kaufmann entitled "Breeding for God." The thesis is stated up front:

In Europe, the fertility advantage of the religious over non-believers has historically been counterbalanced by the march of secularisation. Not any more. Secularisation in Europe is now in decline, and Islam continues to grow. Europe will start to adopt a more American model of modernity.

After noting that, for a long time, modernism and the increasing overthrow of religious authority seemed to go hand in hand, Kaufmann then goes into the demographics that lead to the rise of Christianity from "an obscure sect with just 40 converts in the year 30AD [that] became the official religion of the Roman empire by 300." He cites American sociologist of religion Rodney Stark, who points out that the Christian population over that time increased at a rate of 40 per cent a decade for over two centuries. While a part of that upsurge might have been due to the appeal of the new faith, not yet corrupted by power, it also had much to do with other factors:

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.

There may be some questions about Stark's sources but the pattern has been repeated many times in modern history, including in the growth of Mormonism, conservative Protestantism and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in Israel.

The share of the world's population that is religious is growing, after nearly a century of modest decline. This effect has been produced by the younger generations in the developing world rejecting secularisation, combined with higher religious fertility levels. Throughout the world, the religious tend to have more children, irrespective of age, education or wealth.

Europe is not immune:

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.

Of course, religious and political affiliations are not genetic traits that can be reliably passed on to one's offspring:

European data show that the religious have had a demographic advantage over their secular counterparts for several generations, but also that this advantage has been balanced out by the secularisation of many of the children of Europe's faithful.

But there has been a sea change:

Much of the 20th-century growth of conservative Protestant denominations could have been lost to secularism or to more liberal, higher status sects like the Episcopalians, as conservative Protestants became better educated, wealthier and more urban. What impeded such an "assimilation" of conservative Protestants into more liberal theologies was a disruption of the pattern linking social and religious mobility. Conservative Protestants, once content to be led by an urbane liberal-Protestant elite, became increasingly conscious of their group identity. They began to reject the leadership of liberal Protestants ... This intensified after 1970 with the so-called "culture wars." Liberal theologies and secularism came to be typecast as the malign "other" against which true Christians should mobilise. As evangelicals gained in self-consciousness, they increasingly erected communal boundaries -- such as their own media -- which could bind the generations regardless of education or wealth.

Add to this the effect of immigration, of Latin American Catholics into the United States and of Muslims into Europe, and there may well be a serious challenge to "that great secular movement of cultural individualism which swept high art and culture after 1880 and percolated down the social scale to liberalise attitudes in the 1960s."
That gives a whole new meaning to the imprecation "F**k politics!"

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