Dead End of Secularism

Secularism was to be the wave of the future. Leading secular theorists such as Peter Berger taught that secularism would be the inevitable result of the inexorable march of progress and that its many advantages would simply drive out religion in all of its forms. No serious discussion was possible or necessary. Religion would be deposited unceremoniously on the dustbin of history.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the dustbin: secularism has not only failed to triumph over religion, it can’t even reproduce itself.  In spite of enormous institutional advantages conferred on it by the state, the media and academia, secularism has created a society that cannot achieve replacement fertility. The most secular places tend to have the lowest fertility rates, and within countries, the most modern parts of modern societies tend to have the lowest fertility rates.

This is highlighted in the soon to be released second part of Demographic Winter, an independent film project which features interviews with me, among other experts.

For instance, the US is alone among the modern western democracies in having fertility rates at or above replacement, and the US is widely regarded as the last remaining religious country in the industrialized world. Within the US, the New England states have among the lowest fertility rates in the US. Vermont has the lowest total fertility rate of any state in the union: 1.66 babies per woman. (Note: you have to click on the link for the excel file to see the birth rates.) While you’re looking at the table, please notice that the six New England states, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, are in the “top ten” of the lowest total fertility rate states in the country. Not surprisingly, Vermont has a low population growth rate compared with the rest of the country: Vermont’s population grew 2 per cent between 2000 and 2007, while the entire country grew by 7.2 per cent over the same period.

Citizens of Vermont also have the lowest rates of regular religious practice. In Vermont, for instance, 26% of the population considers themselves “unaffiliated” with any religious tradition, compared with 16 per cent of the US population. Even in Massachusetts, with a large percentage of nominal Catholics, a full third of the population never attends church services, while nationwide only about a quarter of the population nationwide never attends church.  Only 30% of Massachusetts residents attends church services at least once a week, compared with 39 per cent of the general US population. The other New England states have even lower rates of church attendance.

Secularism contains many disincentives for child-rearing. The most obvious is that secularism considers sex a recreational activity, with no social or moral significance, and with no necessary connection with child-rearing. People, including school children, are encouraged to act as if they have perfectly functioning contraception, with abortion available any time during pregnancy. Of course, no contraception functions perfectly. So women get themselves involved in relationships and situations that cannot possibly support a pregnancy. They naturally view these pregnancies as “unintended” and believe abortion is the only “choice.”  Under that world view, having children becomes an inconvenient “choice.”

Operating within their world view, secularists have created a society in which sex is sterile for most people, for most of their lives, with children thrown in as an afterthought for those peculiar souls who happen to like that sort of thing. Marriage is organized around the desires of adults, not around the needs of children. The state does not recognize that children have an interest in the stability of their parents’ union.

Mothers can count on the government for a minimal level of support, but they cannot count on substantial material or emotional support from their child’s father. Poor people can obtain low quality housing subsidized by the state. But nice homes in good neighborhoods, with good schools, require two incomes. Women with high aspirations for their children do want to raise their children within a stable marriage. But the government undermines their efforts to do so, by permitting divorce for any reason or no reason. Women are expected to work throughout their lives.

By contrast, most religious traditions consider sex sacred and children a blessing. Christianity, for instance, holds that God created marriage in the Garden of Eden. Man and woman are meant for love, for union and communion with one another. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2360), “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage, the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and a pledge of spiritual communion.” Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman of exclusive fidelity for the purpose of procreation and education of offspring and the mutual good of the spouses. People who participate in the Christian tradition believe that the connection between sex, marriage and children is ordained by God, for their good, and for the common good of society. This gives people a motivation to bear with the inconveniences associated with child-rearing.

Demographer Phillip Longman, author of The Empty Cradle, puts it well: “who are the people who are still having large families today? The stereotypical answer is poor people, or dumb people, or members of minority groups. But birth rates among American racial and ethnic minority groups are plummeting. The more accurate answer is deeply religious people.”

The claim that secularism would inevitably drive out religion always had an element of wishful thinking to it. The lofty semi-science of the “inexorable laws of history,” hid the fact that specific people embraced secularism and enacted specific policies to implement it. There was never anything particularly inevitable about it.  But now it is clear that in the absence of massive institutional support of the state, secularism does not stand a chance of competing against religion in a fair demographic fight of having and raising the next generation.

[Courtesy of TotheSource.]

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  • elkabrikir

    Dr Morse, is spot on with her conclusion:”Who are the people who are still having large families today? The more accurate answer is deeply religious people.”

    From my experience, anecdotally, barring infertility issues, religious people, whether Catholic, Protestant, or Muslim, bear and raise a large family to the glory of God. The family is not only a sign of blessing, but a way of praising and thanking God. Remember, too, that he needs us to populate the world by co-operating with his plan for reproducing. Yet, it is an awesome privilege to co-create with the Infinite, Eternal Creator of the Universe.

    In my experience, my husband and I felt called, by God, to be open to raising a large family. We never “planned” this way of life alongside our Honeymoon Itinerary. He blessed us with 11 children for some reason (not due to our merit). It is only through the graces of Matrimony that we have been able to persevere in trying to be a Holy Family.

    I don’t know how many married couples he calls to raise a large family. I have to believe it is more than I see around me, because, my large family brings so much joy to most people who know us, once they overcome their incredulity, just by BEING. Aren’t you overwhelmed by the splendor of a family picture overflowing with children?

    Children light up a room. It is Christ’s light, in reality. And the darkness shall not overcome it.

  • In the words of the evil old king in “Braveheart,” we’ll “breed them out.” That’s actually a serious observation–evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction, and goodness knows no limits of any kind. Given a generation or two’s worth of time, the Holy Faith will be on the ascendancy. We have only to fight, and wait.

  • momof11

    Perhaps it used to be “poor, dumb or minority” as per stereotype because they were the ones who were religious. Or perhaps because they were religious they were stereotyped by the elite intellectuals as dumb. Regardless, these days it is still the religious, but seem to tend more towards the middle class as the government schools, programs and policies have managed to destroy the religiousity of the masses.

    Openness to life, openness to the Lordship of Christ in every aspect of our life requires that faith and reason not be separated. Religion must be lived at all times, not be a compartmentalized aspect of our lives. We must remain aware of Christ present in our daily life, at work, at play and in church is crucial. Our Faith is a living relationship with the person of Jesus Christ present in our lives.

  • goral

    Elkabrikir says: “Children light up a room. It is Christ’s light, in reality.”

    This statement is also spot on. The innocence of children and the commitment to children is something that the secular liberals can’t face. They dread answering a child’s question that would require them to bare their putrid souls, to face the light.

    Going to church, to Mass, is taking part in the Supper of the Lamb. I’ve been to many dinners by myself in my travels, it’s no fun.
    There is nothing more enjoyable than having your family at the dinner table.

    Broken down houses where nobody lives is the result of barren souls, extended into barren wombs.

  • c-kingsley

    We need to make sure that we pass on the faith to our families. Otherwise, it will be just Our wishful thinking that we’ll “breed them out.” We could be just supplying the next round of secularists.