Religion and Fertility In America


Religion and Fertility In America

Perhaps nowhere are the indelible facts of the central theme of God in the founding of America’s Democratic Republic more clear and undeniable than in the stone edifices of the buildings and other structures of Washington D.C.. I thank my dear sister-in-law Jeanne Ollhoff for posthumously gifting me an edition of Newt Gingrich’s Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the role of faith in our Nation’s History and Future (2006). I encourage you to read this powerful little book.

It is reasonable to wonder why in Europe religion has lost ground compared to in America. Francis Fukuyama describes this counter-intuitive outcome and provides a plausible explanations in his book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995).

“The U.S. Constitution prohibits the federal government from establishing a national religion, though it does not prohibit the states from doing so. Some individual states like Massachusetts had established religions as late as the 1830’s but the principle of the separation of church and state is an old and venerable one. One would think that the establishment of a national church, as in a number of European countries, would promote a strong sense of community, since it would bind national to religious and entity and give citizens a common culture beyond the political system. In fact, something of the opposite tends to happen. In countries with established churches, where religious identity is ascribed rather than voluntary, people frequently tend toward secularism and in many cases become openly anticlerical. Countries without established churches, on the other hand, often experience a higher degree of genuine religious observance. Thus the United States with no established church and increasingly secular public life, continues to enjoy a far higher degree of religiosity that virtually all European countries with national churches. This is true by almost any measure of religious feeling; church attendance, the number of people who assert that they believe in God, or the level of private charitable donations to religious organizations” (p. 288).

The reasons for this that Fukuyama describes are that people may feel that it is an “unwanted burden” when ones religion is mandated. When people are free to choose their religious affiliation they have a genuine interest in doing that and their church affiliation feeds that interest for young and old alike. It is also likely that in a “free market” of religions, that they compete to attract and retain members. Churches with mandated membership not likely be motivated to become so competitive.

Completion is widely known to provide for a greater diversity, quality and ease of access to choices available to consumers, independent of the products involved. Why should it be any different for religious choices?

One of the reasons that America has been able to stave off this proportional youth decline that has afflicted Western Europe, and much of the rest of the developing societies in the world is that America has retained a fertility rate which is slightly above replacement levels. As you may deduce, below replacement birth rates for a socioculture spells disaster. Two of the natural correlates within developing societies are increased education (leading to later marriage and fewer children) and better medical care (leading to an increasing aged population and an increasing handicapped population). This means that proportionately there are fewer young people in the culture-sustaining population to work, invent, create wealth, pay taxes and fight wars, etc.

David Goldman (2011), How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too,  discusses the central influence of Judeo/Christian religion upon the relative reproductive rates and viability of America and Israel in contrast to less religious and largely atheist counties.

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” (Kindle Loc. 195).

Of the Islam’s overall declining fertility rate and its dire predictions for that civilization’s future, Goldman reports the following:

“In the Islamists’ own view, the encounter of Islam with the globalized world has had catastrophic effects on a religion so deeply rooted in the habits of traditional society that it cannot survive in the harsh light of modernity. The closing of the Muslim womb is a symptom of a shock to the spiritual condition of the Islamic world, a loss of faith more sudden and more devastating than the past century’s trend towards secularism in the West” (Kindle Loc. 492).

There is more to come soon.

VTM, 11/11/13

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