Religious are inheriting the Earth
Birthrates: Think religion is declining? Don’t forget who is ‘ going forth and multiplying’
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and other well- known atheists consider the decline of religion inevitable as the global population becomes more secular, more educated and more urban.
Last month, a Pew Research poll in the U. S., the world’s most- religious industrialized nation, revealed that three out of four Americans also agree religion appears to be in retreat.
But is it? While secularists are making some inroads in North America and Europe, the new atheists and others are missing a crucial demographic shift as the world’s population has swelled to seven billion.
Those who believe the world is inexorably becoming more secular are overlooking the rise in the developing world of Muslims, Hindus, Catholics and Pentecostals, as well as the phenomenally rapid expansion of sects such as the Amish and ultra- Orthodox Jews.
In a challenge to the secularizing proposition, Eric Kaufmann, a noted London- based demographer, projects that religious people, especially conservatives, will win the race against the non- religious in the 21st century.
Why? Basically because religious women are having far more babies than secular women.
I recently had the chance to talk in Vancouver and in Britain with Kaufmann, who is a professor of politics at Birkbeck College, University of London.
Born in Hong Kong and raised in West Vancouver, Kaufmann is a highly affable scholar who has emerged as one of the West’s major public intellectuals. Examining data most other scholars ignore, Kaufmann has, among other things, been advising the British government on religion, politics, migration and ethnicity.
While most Western commentators have dismissed the 1968 warnings of Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb, Kaufmann does not. One of his charts shows the world’s population has multiplied by seven since the Industrial Revolution began around 1840.
While it’s partly correct to say many low- birth- rate Europeans and North Americans, and many ethnic Chinese, increasingly find religion unnecessary, the larger global trend is that religious people are proliferating because of high fertility in the Middle East, Africa and South- East Asia.
The main reason Islam, Catholicism and conservative Protestantism is expanding is not necessarily because they’re converting newcomers, Kaufman argues, but because their religions tend to be “pro- natal” and they have more children.
“What no one has noticed is that far from declining, the religious are expanding their share of the population: in fact, the more religious people are, the more children they have,” Kaufmann says in Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? ( Profile Books).
“The cumulative effect of immigration from religious countries, and religious fertility will be to reverse the secularization process in the West. Not only will the religious eventually triumph over the non- religious, but it is those who are the most extreme in their beliefs who have the largest families.”
Even while some critics have suggested Kaufmann’s projections are too adventurous and that he ignores the existential benefits of being part of a religious community or having a transcendent world view, his long- range demographic study is powerful.
He particularly punctures one liberal, secular platitude. Kaufmann’s data shows that conservative religious people do not necessarily have fewer children as they become more educated and urban.
“The World Values Survey results reveal that a woman’s religiosity is almost as important as her education in predicting how many children she has,” he says. “In some countries it is more important. Young, welleducated urban women who are religious have significantly higher birthrates than young, well- educated urban women who are not religious.”
Kaufmann also emphasizes the coupling of conservative religiosity and fertility is rapidly becoming a First World issue.
Because of increasingly high immigration rates to the West, Kaufmann projects regions such as Europe, the U. S., Canada and Australia will grow more religious. “Religion is coming to the West on the backs of immigrants.”
To illustrate, one of Kaufmann’s maps reveals the metropolis of London recently turned into one of the most “religious” parts of Britain — almost entirely because of in- migration.
As for the U. S., Kaufmann says, waves of new Latino immigrants are more religious ( particularly Catholic) than the host population. And the birthrate among them is 2.75 children per woman, compared to just 1.66 among non- religious Americans.
The swift rise of ultra- Orthodox Jews also dramatically demonstrates Kaufmann’s thesis.
In a New York Times analysis last month headlined, Are liberal Jewish voters a thing of the past?, Joseph Berger wrote that 60 per cent of Jewish children in New York City — the heart of American Jewry — are now orthodox Jews, many of them ultra- Orthodox Hasidim.
While the overall U. S. Jewish population, which tends to vote Democrat, has a birthrate of just 1.43 children per women, patriarchal ultra- Orthodox Jews believe they are required by God to “go forth and multiply.” Their birthrate is six to seven babies per woman.
A similar shift is occurring in Israel.
“The ultra- Orthodox are reshaping the soul of Israel and driving its population ever upward. In 1960, they formed just three per cent of the country’s Jewish first- grade class. Now they represent a third of pupils,” Kaufmann says.
Regardless of whether one thinks religion is good, bad or indifferent, and Kaufmann remains academically neutral on that values topic, there are consequences to its expansion.
For one thing, Orthodox Jews in the U. S. tend to vote Republican rather than Democrat. And in Israel more than 60,000 Orthodox Jewish men have demanded a religious exemption from military service, forcing more moderate and secular Jews to become the country’s defenders.
In addition, the rise of scripturally literalistic religions means there could be more incidents like the one last month on an El Al flight from New York City, in which dozens of Hasidic men refused to sit beside the female passengers. Photos of the crowded aisles went viral.
A leading historian of Europe and world Jewry, Walter Laqueur, sees a future that largely echoes the one painted by Kaufmann.
The author of The Last Days of Europe: Epitaph for an Old Continent, projects that low birthrates will cause the largely secular population of Europe ( including Russia) to decline by 120 million people by 2050. As the number of homegrown Europeans tumbles, Laqueur predicts, they will be mostly replaced by religious immigrants. What about Canada? The most recent figures available confirm Kaufmann’s thesis.
Muslim women in Canada have the highest birthrate — at 2.4 babies per woman, followed by Hindus ( two babies per woman), Sikhs ( 1.9), Jews ( 1.8), various Protestants ( 1.6) and Catholics ( 1.6). Non- religious Canadian women have only 1.4 babies per woman.
Kaufmann has also discovered that children of immigrants do not easily walk away from the family religion — not like many of the offspring of parents born in the West.
Children of immigrants often engage in “cultural defence,” says sociologists. They tend to stay with their parents’ traditional, ethno- religious customs to affirm their identities.
When secularism does gain newcomers, Kaufmann says, they come mainly from the offspring of domestic- born moderate or liberal religious parents. “The middle ground,” as Kaufmann puts it, “is being hollowed out.”
There is a “higher cost” for members of conservative religions to reject their parents’ faith, he says. “To leave a conservative religion is a big, big step. You’re leaving more behind.”
With such lines of reasoning, Kaufmann makes a case that is worth taking seriously regarding who shall inherit the Earth.