Thursday, July 31, 2008

Religion and Declining Birthrates

Michael Medved talked recently about the declining birthrates in western Europe and how this trend threatened to seriously harm economies as fewer and fewer working people would be around to support more and more elderly and ailing retirees. He proceeded to argue that this declining birthrate was largely the result of western Europe's growing apathy toward monotheistic religions which teach that human life is a "gift" and that we should fill the Earth with as much of it as we can.

Medved may be right about how a population's declining interest in religion causes its birthrate to decline. Or he may be wrong or, at least, he may be overestimating the importance of religion's and underestimating the importance of other factors' contribution to this decline. But let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that he's thoroughly right. Does this mean that we should cling to dubious if not ridiculous religions in order to boost our populations? I don't think so.

Does it mean that we should be as fruitful and multiply as much as possible in order to keep our economies strong? Again, I don't think so. For I suspect that I speak for the subconscious if not conscious convictions of many that life is more of a curse or, at least, an unpleasant struggle than a blessing that we, nevertheless, cling to not because we love it so much but because, partly as a result of religious teachings, we fear dying and death more than we love life and because we feel nagging responsibility to hang in there for our loved ones.

If I'm right about this, we should celebrate declining birthrates in western Europe and fervently hope to see this same trend take place the world over so that the human population will shrink to a much more sustainable and environmentally friendly level.

Now I'll grant that the economic impact of a declining birthrate could be harmful to many, making life in an economy top-heavy with elderly retirees even more of an unpleasant struggle for everyone than it is already. But I don't believe that this justifies raising the birthrate. To me, it is the height (or should I say "depths"?) of selfishness to bring more children into this harsh and chaotic world to struggle and suffer so that they can take care of the rest of us. And if life is really as unpleasant for most of us as I've said, we're not doing the unborn any disfavors by not giving them the so-called "gift" of life. And if some might have had wonderful lives if only they'd been conceived and brought into this world, I say that if these potential persons will never know what they missed by not becoming actual persons, and the world will never know what it missed by not bringing them into it.


Anonymous said...

Medved needs to study a little more history. The simple reason is that as countries become more wealthy they stop having children. There are a couple of reasons for this, the first being the families involved no longer need them. It is a simple fact that 100 years ago the successful families were those that had a lot of children. They were used as labor. Also because of the high infant mortality rates, to ensure that you had survivors, you had to produce as many children as possible. It was simply a matter of numbers and probabilities.

Religion drives fanatics and some true believers but for the most part people do what suits them best and these days children are a financial burden.

Anytime you see a country go from third world status to first world status you see a corresponding drop in birth rate.


Nagarjuna said...

I agree that the socioeconomic factors you mention probably play a much larger role than religion in declining birthrates in the relatively prosperous nations of western Europe.

As a matter of curiosity and as a way of testing our hypothesis, I wonder if there are prosperous yet also highly religious, in the Abrahamic vein, nations in western Europe or elsewhere that also show a significant decline in birthrate. I guess the United States qualifies as a highly religious country that is also prosperous. Was there a significant decline in its birthrate even as its religiosity remained intact?

Anonymous said...

I would disagree with your assertion that the US is highly religious. I have lived in many countries that are, and we don't even come close. Israel is probably the closest to your hypothetica country and yes they are seeing significant decline in birthrate. It is only due to immigration that they are maintaning their population.