Faith, Population, and National Survival

A number of scholarly works have now noted the connection between religion and demographics. Faith and fertility it seems are closely linked. Consider for example sociologist Eric Kaufmann’s 2010 volume, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?

Simply put, nations with high levels of religious faith are holding their own when it comes to population levels. But nations which are secular are seeing rapid population decline. But it also makes a difference what kind of religious faith we are talking about. It might surprise many to know that the Muslim world is now in one of the most radical periods of population decline in human history.

Thus it is not just the developed world which is suffering a population implosion. Much of the Muslim world is also in demographic decline. All these truths have profound political, social and geopolitical implications. And all of this is brilliantly discussed in two very important new books by David Goldman.

The economist and political commentator has two brand new books out, both released just this September. These are: How Civilizations Die (Regnery) and It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations (RVP).

The first is a book-length (300 page) treatment of this subject while the second is a collection of essays on these themes. Both make for fascinating reading, and help to give us a handle on how nations thrive or die. And faith and demographics are at the heart of all this.

Says Goldman, “A good deal of the world seems to have lost the taste for life . . . Today’s cultures are dying of apathy, not by the swords of their enemies.” The degree of religious faith and human hope determine how nations fare. The more secular a nation is, the more likely its fertility rates will be plummeting.

A purely secular analysis will simply not do here: “Our strategic thinking suffers from a failure to take into account the existential problems of other nations. We think in the narrow categories of geopolitics, but we need to study theopolitics – the powerful impact of religious beliefs and aspirations on world events.”

The statistics bear this connection out: “The degree of religious faith explains a great deal of the variation in population growth rates among the countries of the world. The industrial world’s lowest fertility rates are encountered among the nations of Eastern Europe where atheism was the official ideology for generations. The highest fertility rates in the developed world are found in countries with a high degree of religious faith, namely the United States and Israel. And demographers have identified religion as a crucial factor in the differences among populations within countries. When faith goes, fertility vanishes, too.”

As Goldman rightly summarises, “The members of sick cultures … cease to have children.” When a nation loses hope and a sense of purpose, its members cease having children. Indeed, when there is loss of faith in the future, people simply stop having children. This is true of individuals as well of nations.

He traces this truth through history as well. The classical civilisations died out because of “moral inanition” and “self-imposed infertility”. Ancient Greece and Rome for example simply no longer wanted to live, and their anti-fertility practices ensured a fatal outcome.

As Rodney Stark stated in The Rise of Christianity, the pagans were essentially anti-life, resorting heavily to contraception and infanticide. The early Christians on the other hand were strongly pro-life. Thus the pagan world died out while the new Christian faith flourished and spread.

But what about Islam? Why is it too experiencing steep demographic decline if it is such a strong religious community? Goldman spends a number of chapters on such questions. While Muslims as a whole still have more children than do most Westerners, this is changing.

“Most of the variation in birth rates among Muslim countries is explained by a single factor: literacy. . . . Across the entire Muslim world, university-educated Muslim women bear children at the same rate as their infecund European counterparts.” Religious practice also is a factor here, with Muslims who frequently attend a mosque more likely to have big families.

The shrinking Muslim population spells real danger to the West. Consider a nation like Iran for example where fertility rates are well down. “Iran’s looming demographic disaster makes the country more dangerous. People stop having children when they lose faith in their future.”

He continues, “Loss of faith may express itself in passive despondency. … But it also may express itself in a desperation to achieve victory before the window of opportunity closes.” And this is the far more likely outcome for Iran warns Goldman. Indeed, “nothing is more dangerous than a civilization that has only just discovered it is dying.”

Thus geopolitical considerations must also be addressed in terms of theopolitical realities. While the West as a whole is in perilous population decline, America is remaining steady. But it is “not that Americans in general are having children, but that Americans of faith are having children, and there are more Americans of faith than citizens of any other industrial country.”

While secular Europe is suffering a massive population implosion, the US is maintaining its fertility rates. In contrast, the death of Christianity in Europe has led to the death of Europe itself. It is now the most secular continent on earth, and it is also experiencing some of the lowest fertility rates on earth. “Abnegation of child-rearing is the ultimate expression of nihilism.”

Thus it seems that Yahweh had it right three millennia ago when he said, “All who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36). Pagan and/or secular societies with no belief in an afterlife and immortality have little reason for hope, and therefore have little reason to remain fertile and reproduce. The will to live is lost, and civilisations die out. As Goldman correctly notes, “Demographic winter arises from a crisis of faith.”

I close with his incisive words: “Spengler, whose Decline of the West remains the standard for pessimism, claimed that human civilizations followed a biological cycle of growth and decay. But there is no reason to believe this to be true; some very ancient civilizations – China and India, for example – are in resurgence. The truth is that humankind cannot survive without faith, specifically faith that our lives have meaning beyond the mere span of our years. Civilizations that lose their faith also lose their desire to continue and fail to reproduce themselves.”

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