Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What's the big deal?

Clearly, a religion gets its members from one of two places: they are born into it, or they convert from some other belief system.

One of the first reactions I got when I first floated my thesis that the religious landscape in the US was about to be reshaped by dramatic differences in fertility between conservative Christians, liberal Christians and strictly secular Americans was: "It's pretty pathetic to give up on converts and decide you're just going to get new members by having lots of children and indoctrinating them. Having more than two children violates our stewardship of the planet, and I believe liberalism will continue to win converts."

Well, first of all, I'm not necessarily suggesting anything. This whole line of thinking is much more along the lines of an observation than a suggested course of action. There are a few parts of the world where fertility is being used as a political pressure tactic (Palestinians in the the occupied territories give awards to women who have more than ten children) but in general the number of children people have simply reflects their values, hopes, beliefs and aspirations. Some people feel the call to have a large number of children. Others feel like children get in the way of a lifelong honeymoon. Most fall in the middle and want a child or two, but not enough to be totally overwhelming. (Heck some days I feel pretty overwhelmed by just two children.)

Here's why this is something that has been on my mind for the last several years, and why I finally made it the overall theme of this blog in order to try to sort all this thinking out, with the help of anyone who cares to comment.

For the one of the first times in recorded human history, we are at a point where birth rates are uniformly falling across the globe, not because we're out of land, not because we're out of food, not because we're out of resources, but rather because we have plenty of all of these. The countries with the lowest fertility are the richest countries, while poorer nations are gradually following their lead, as they get richer. In other words, the reason why population growth is slowing world wide and already negative in most developed nations is quite simply that most people don't want more children.

Now, why is that? And how, if at all, will this change the cultural and intellectual trends that we've seen play out over the last couple centuries?

One very obvious thing that a lot of people have commented on is that the US will be Hispanic and Europe will be Islamic. (Though note, US Hispanics and European Muslims are both experiencing falling fertility rates, they just haven't fallen as far as "white" fertility rates yet.)

Anecdotally (and in the few studies that are available, more on that in upcoming posts) one of the major factors in how many children someone has seems to be religiosity. Catholics in particular and those with more traditional religious beliefs in general have more children (on average) than less religious or overtly secular people.

This brings up two obvious questions:
1) What, if anything, does higher fertility among religious people tell us about their beliefs.
2) Will this higher fertility among religious people have the effect of making the population more conservative and more religious over time?

Key to that second question is the sub-question: How closely will the children of the religious population cleave to their parents beliefs?

More to come...


mrsdarwin said...

Now, is saying that "having lots of children violates our stewardship of the planet" somewhat akin to saying that if God had wanted us to have lots of children He would have designed the human body to be fertile often (in the case of women) or all the time (in the case of men)?

Oh, wait....

CincyDarwin said...

Thanks for your insightful comments! It has many times struck me forcefully that God's first words to humanity are the command: "Be fertile and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). I am confident that when God gives a command, He also, in justice, must provide the means and resources to obey and fulfill the command. Your observation that people are having children not because of a lack of food, but because of having too much is insightful. Leaving aside the rampant international disobedience to God's command implied in falling fertility rates, not producing children manifests an attitude similar to that of King Hezekiah in the Bible. When he was informed that his disobedience would result in the ruin of his nation, but not in his lifetime, he was glad because that meant he would enjoy peace and security in his lifetime (Isaiah 39:8).

Since the advent of the popular use of artificial contraception, abortion, and sterilization, it seems to me that many people are employing the same self-centered and short-sighted attitude as that of Hezekiah: "I say I love my 1.6 children, and I say that I'm concerned about their future, but when push comes to shove, I ultimately don't worry about what kind of world I leave behind for them as long as I have comfort and don't have to sacrifice too much during my own life." This is heartbreaking. There is the initial temptation to hopelessness that no matter how much I sacrifice, my children and grandchildren might not have much of a world left to live in (spiritually, environmentally, and morally) because of the immensity of the culture of limited reproduction.

My consolation and hope is that, as a father of six, I trust that obeying God's command will result in blessings for a thousand generations on the families of the children and grandchildren I will eventually leave behind (Exodus 20:6). I also trust that grace abounds far more than do the shortcomings of this world (Romans 5:20-21).

Thanks for your blog!

CincyDarwin said...

Apologies - my above response should have been posted to the "All for the Children" article. Sorry, Mr. D!