A godless society

empy churchCan a godless society survive? That is the question that I believe USA Today‘s Noelle Knox failed to ask in her decent, if a bit shallow (USAT-style), article on the decline of religion in Western Europe.

Mary Haugh, who has gone to Mass here seven days a week for almost all of her 79 years, is saddened by these changes. “It’s a Godless society,” she says.

Ireland is not an exception. Every major religion except Islam is declining in Western Europe, according to the Center for the Study on Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. The drop is most evident in France, Sweden and the Netherlands, where church attendance is less than 10% in some areas.

Knox follows the familiar formula. Western Europe is prospering, there are no major conflicts, the birth rate has dropped precipitously, and thus, religion is on the decline. Somehow she tries to explain, without sourcing, the increasing separation of church and state, but that doesn’t make any sense. Look at areas where church and state are most separated and you will see thriving religious groups. Perhaps it’s the other way around?

The numbers Knox uses in her story can be a bit confusing, and I believe she often compares apples to oranges.

In 1900, almost everyone in Europe was Christian. Now, three out of four people identify themselves as adherents to Christianity. At the same time, the percentage of Europeans who say they are non-religious has soared from less than 1% of the population to 15%. Another 3% say they don’t believe in God at all, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.

Knox does manage to find someone who isn’t oh-so-depressed (or rejoicing) that the religious decline in Western Europe is bringing forth this supposed wave of tolerance unprecedented on the continent (Knox also fails to examine the ramifications of the said and supposed tolerance).

Andrew Greeley, a priest, professor at the University of Chicago and prolific author on Christianity, argues that despite the drop in church attendance, Christianity is not on the wane everywhere in Europe. “Religion declined abruptly in England and the Netherlands. It is stagnant in West Germany, and it is flourishing in Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia,” he says. “I get upset about the sweeping generalization about the decline in religion. Religion is always declining and always reviving.”

Overall, if you’re looking for a casual read, this is it, but for more serious observers of religion or European culture, this article will only frustrate you with its lack of depth and precision.

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  • Stephen A.

    Correct about the article’s shortcomings. But is right to fault a paper not really known for depth? Maybe.

    But I’m ready to read an onslaught of attacks on this story from those who jumped onto GetReligion just after the 7/7 London attacks to claim the churches in England were “filled” despite a report to the contrary that was posted here.

    Maybe they were filled on that day, but the fact remains, the liberal churches that dominate Europe (and that used to dominate America) are not exactly, er, *vibrant* – and I’m being kind with that word.

    In fact, most church buildings I saw on my trip to Western Europe 10 years ago (though not to the UK, sadly) were either museums or conservative churches that were very much alive. 90% of the Europeans I met said religion was something they “used” to do, and said or implied they had “grown out of” those old superstitions.

    So Greeley seems to be right about religion, after a fashion. It’s always declining (liberal churches) and reviving (conservative ones). This is true in Europe, but also here in the U.S. I think he also got the countries right for declining/reviving.

    But I’m sure even that will be debated by the few liberal hangers-on left in the Western European nations.

  • ECJ

    The most important effect of the progressing secularization of Europe would be the catastrophic collapse in birthrate. Can a godless culture survive? Evidently not. Despite all the copulating, it can’t even stir itself to reproduce. We are witnessing an entire culture commiting slow suicide by contraception.

    One of the (by now largely achieved) goals of modernism is to sever the necessary connections between sex, children, and marriage – the purpose of course being to make room for sex unencumbered by commitment and responsibility. What you end up with is lots of sex, no marriage, and no children. It’s Sweden writ large – a secular paradise.

    And the coverage of this story is … where exactly? The article buries the story in the middle and mentions only the potential impact on Europe’s “generous social welfare policies”. You think? Maybe the culture war that is looming just over the horizon would rate a mention? The war with with a confident Muslim culture growing stronger every day right in the very heart of Europe?

    The demographic death of Europe is earth-shaking in its implications. It is far more important than global-warming fantasies and potential comet strikes. It is coming much faster than people realize. And nobody in the secularized west has a clue what to do about it. You would think there is a story in there somewhere. But I suspect too many sacred secular cows are at stake.

    ECJ

  • http://estudioreligiones.blogspot.com Jaume

    Demographic death of Europe? As far as I know, the overall population is growing. Granted, it is growing because of immigration and the high birth rate of immigrants. Does this mean that Europe is dying? Or is it a specific ethnic/cultural profile that has been dominant for centuries the one that is in decline and slowly becoming a minority? I think we are undergoing a widespread change, just as there was an ethnic and cultural change in America with the Irish and continental European immigration immigration of late 19th century, or in Western Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, or in Latin America after the Spanish and Portuguese invasions. But Europe, with different colors and with new ways of praying added to the old ones, will go on.

  • Beacon

    Sorry, OT here, but can’t help noticing from MSNBC website piece today on Roberts hearing that they’re still struggling to find a way to say ‘partial birth abortion’ The following is at least a bit better than ‘intact dilation and extraction’:

    ‘Stenberg v Carhart (2000): O’Connor joined the decision striking down Nebraska’s ban on certain abortions which involve dismemberment of the fetus.’

  • Tom Breen

    I’d be interested in reading an in-depth story about the degree of state support for churches in Europe, because to me that seems like a fascinating, but mostly ignored, part of the story. Belgium licenses “official religions” and funds such religions with tax dollars, while there are state churches in Scandinavia and Great Britain. I’m pretty sure there’s a higher degree of church-state collusion in Western Europe than would be at all acceptable under U.S. law, yet Christianity in these countries seems to be on the wane. Maybe there’s a connection, maybe not; either way, it might be a fruitul area for a reporter to look into.

  • Michael

    “Demographic death” is probably right because it means that Europe will not continue to be white. That doesn’t mean, however, that immigrants will not be able to fill the workforce needs. ECJ’s biggest concern seems to be the lack of white people.

    Lower birthrates has little to do with whether a nation is secular or not, the correlation is actually the educational attainment of women. The more educated women become, the less likely they will be producing large numbers of children. Even in very religious countries like India and Mexico, birthrates are down because women are becoming educated.

  • Stephen A.

    Replacing ‘white’ Frenchmen and women, for example, with immigrant Muslims is rather significant.

    Not necessarily for racial reasons (though those are causing huge traumas there and elsewhere in Europe) but for the religious and cultural earthquake that will bring in society.

    The initial reaction to multi-religious society is secularism, but I suspect once these groups become majorities, they will not allow secularism to remain in place as a permanent fixture.

    The birthrate observation was a good one, Michael. It seems to be a cycle in civilizations, one that leads to a culture’s death. Too bad it wasn’t different this time.

  • Larry Rasczak

    There is NO SUCH THING as a “Godless Society”.
    Every society is built around and values something. In Christian Europe gave birth to societies where Christianity was (at least formally) central to the society. The Islamic world has, quite naturally, Islam as a primary organizing factor.

    The USSR claimed to be “godless”, but a more correct way of saying it would be that they were a society where the Party was “God”, or at least filled the role of God. Prior to the death of Stalin, Stalin was their God.

    Pre-Christian Rome was a society where the Emperor, the Empire itself, or the self was God. Maoist China had, quite naturally, Mao as God.

    So we aren’t actually moving towards a “Godless society”, we are simply changing Gods; or more properly changing what we worship and what we value most.

    This doesn’t mean that society “colapse”. Non-Christian Societies have existed and functioned quite well. Civilization won’t end. Electricity will still flow. Stocks will still be trades. The stores will still be full.

    The problem is, non-Christian societies have a pretty sorry track record when it comes to taking care of people. The distinguishing charachteristic of Christian society is that people are valued in and of themselves. The American Declaration of Independence assumes that people have God given rights that are inalienable. People are of infinite value because they are the children of God.

    Non-Christian societies normally see people as having only the rights that the State decides to give them. They have value only in so far as they serve society or the state. Therefore it is not immoral to enslave, exploit, or kill them. Especially the weak and inconvienent.

    Non-Christian Societies are not Godless, just really really nasty places to live.

  • ECJ

    Michael,

    I am not concerned about a lack of “white women.” I didn’t use the word ‘race.’ I used the word ‘culture.’ Islam is a religion – not a race. The coming conflict in Europe will revolve around culture, and therefore by necessary implication must ultimately be centered upon religion (since culture is the first derivative of religion). Mr Rasczak is quite right. Every culture has a ‘god.’

    What is disappearing in Europe is that portion of the population with even a residual connection to Europe’s Christian origin. And to imagine that everything we know to be the West – dependent as it is upon its religious roots – will survive the ascendence of Islam is pure folly. Islam is not the West. The West is not Islam. There is no evidence that they are anything but incompatible.

    Ten percent of Sweden is Turk. Not assimilated Swedes of Turkish descent – but rather Turks who have transplanted Turkish culture to Europe. When they get to be 50% of the population, all those secular ethnic Swedes are going to learn how to spell Sharia with stark and alarming detail.

    They know this, and they are afraid. But they don’t know what to do about it. I think most of them just hope they will be die before the implications become fully realized. And since they don’t have children, what do they care about the future of Sweden after they are dead?

    That secular world view shows up the most alarming places.

    ECJ

  • http://molly.douthett.net molly

    “Non-Christian Societies are not Godless, just really really nasty places to live.”

    Wow, Larry. Have you been to the inner cities of the God blessed USA? We are a Christian culture if the religious right is to be trusted and there are plenty of really nasty places to live right here in America. Be careful about the sweeping generalizations.

  • Michael

    Europe, unlike the U.S and Canada, has never had to cope with being a multicultural society. We don’t really know whether European countries can succeed at creating a multicultural society, but it is clear it is being thrust upon them.

    Do you really belioeve, however, that if people started going to Mass every day or attending church more regularly that suddenly white people–and we are talking about white people as opposed to those brown and black adherants to Islam? Why do you believe that greater religiosity would translate into white, Christians having more babies???

  • ECJ

    Michael,

    Actually, I think that Europeans stopped having children because they stopped seeing children as a gift of God and started seeing them as competition for their time and resources. If Europeans started going to Church out of conviction, then, yes, they would start having children again. But they have despised their heritage. In truth, I think that their childlessness is a judgment. And we should pay attention lest it happen here as well.

    Now, if you want to imply that I am a racist, that is your perogative. But this isn’t about race. It is about how different cultures define what is Good, Right, and True. The way things are headed, Europe is not going to end up multiculteral. It is going to be dominated by Islamic transplants. Their race is irrelevant. Their Islamic world view is not. If you want to prove me wrong, then just point out to me all of those highly enlightened, thoroughly-westernized Islamic societies currently populating the planet. I must have missed them somewhere.

    ECJ

  • Zoomie

    ECJ,

    Small demographic nit-pick:

    Stats from the Turkish Studies Center in Essen, German put the number of Turks in Sweden at about 37,000 (including both Turkish nationals and Turks who are naturalised citizens of the Sweden). These are from 2001 census figures. Given that Sweden’s poopulation is currently about 8.9 million, this would mean that the percentage of Turks in Sweden is only about four tenths of one percent. Has the population of Turks in Sweden gone from 37 thousand to more than 800 thousand in just four years? Seems unlikely.

    Zoomie

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I love the way American family values get conflated with True Religion. Ever read St Paul? “Get married if you really have to, but I wouldn’t advise it since the end of the world is coming soon” was more or less his view on the topic.

    Fact: the world is hugely overpopulated, with the West having an unsustainable impact on the environment. From that perspective (which may or may not be God’s – I suppose ECJ knows more about that than me), fewer Europeans will be a good thing – and fewer Americans would be even more so.

    And as for Islam in Europe – there’s no inherent reason why the Enlightment values of reason, tolerance, and respect for human rights should not win out in the end. Those things are actually taken quite seriously in Europe – despite the self-righteous diagnosis that emanates from American conservatives.

  • Michael

    ECJ also seems to ignore that even in the U.S.–which is considered to be a very religious country–birthrates are down, even among people who consider themselves devout. The same applies to Mexico and India, which I have already pointed out.

    If people are concenred about birthrates, it is time to rethink out paradigm. There is no evidence that the local priest telling people to have more children has that great an influence on birthrates, especially as womn delay having children because of greater education and careers.

    The only real way to increase birthrates would be to stop educating women and limiting job options. Beyond that, our current system does not offer much hope that women are going to continue to have children at the same rates their mother and grandmothers had them.

  • 1630revello

    It is true that the churches of Europe are almost empty. It is also true that few Europeans who do go to church really believe in Christ. Doesn’t that make Europe spiritually healthy?

  • Stephen A.

    Bartholomew, it’s repugnantly racist to suggest that fewer Europeans and Americans (meaning, “fewer WHITES”) will be a “good thing.”

    Surely you’re not trying to say that the non-whites who will dominate Europe in a generation will be *necessarily* more environmentally aware than the whites living there now simply due to their skin color or non-Christian faiths, are you?

    If so, the facts don’t back that up.

    What is it in the religion of Islam, for example, that makes you confident they will be any less eager to exploit the environment than European whites have, when people of that faith dominate the continent? Do I have to remind you where the oil comes from and how we get it?

    And the experience of the Third World, which is heavily polluted and knows nothing about “sustainability” shows that non-European/non-whites have been far less careful with the environment than those in the West.

    I hope at least we pass on our goal of high environmental standards and sustainabilty to those who will replace us in 50 years, but it doesn’t look promising.

    As for human rights in Europe, those pre-dated the recent immigration trends. I’d suggest you look at the nations of origin of recent immigrants for clues of how they will treat “tolerance” and “equality” once those pesky white, Christian Europeans die out.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I didn’t know European and American = white. Perhaps I should throw around an accusation of racism as well.

    My point was that there are too many people on the planet already, and a reduction in the number would be good for the environment. A reduction in that part of the world’s population that consumes the most and creates disproportionate pollution would, objectively, be most beneficial (not that I would ever want a population to be reduced by disaster or by state authoritarianism, which I suspect will be the next accusation).

    As for environmentalism outside Europe/North America – I never suggested that cultures and societies in those areas were necessarily more environmentalist. However, certain trends in the West – ranging from unfettered materialism to Christian beliefs about the end of the world – can be seen as particularly unhelpful.

    And where did I suggest that human rights did not predate immigrants? What I meant was that I have confidence that the opportunities offered by positive Enlightenment values will ultimately prove more attractive for most immigrants than religious fundamentalism.

  • http://molly.douthett.net molly

    If my world history classes serve me here, the Enlightenment values were introduced to the West after our Dark Ages by none other than Muslims who had gone a different path vis. knowledge and faith. If it weren’t for the interaction of Muslims and the west, would our renaissance have happened?

  • ECJ

    Zoomie made me check my figures about the immigrant community in Sweden. Hereafter find a link to a Washigton Post article. The critical paragraph is reproduced.

    “Almost 12 percent of the roughly 9 million people living in Sweden as of this summer were foreign-born, government statistics show. Sweden has long hosted white immigrants from Finland and the Baltic countries. But according to the latest figures, about 7 percent of the population comes from outside Europe, most of them nonwhite.”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52672-2004Oct21.html

    There is also this for what it is worth.

    http://64.207.171.242/pages/sweden.html

    “In August 2000, the total population was 8.876.611 but no statistics covers religious affiliation. If counting immigrants coming from countries with significant Muslim populations and then estimating the number of Muslims from the percentage of the population of the country of origin you arrive to estimations around 250.000–300.000 including the children born in Sweden. If you, on the other hand, only count those who are active in the Muslim communities that are entitled to obtain state grants you will reach the figure 90.000. Thus, 1 % to 4 % of the total population of Sweden are Muslims. According to a rough approximation, a third or more of the Muslim population is below the age of 20.”

    So Zoomie is correct. My assertion was a considerable simplification of the true situation.

    ECJ

  • ECJ

    “ECJ also seems to ignore that even in the U.S.–which is considered to be a very religious country–birthrates are down, even among people who consider themselves devout. The same applies to Mexico and India, which I have already pointed out.”

    1. The U.S is a nominally religious country, but in general its population operates according to secular assumptions. One hundred years ago, it was a religious country.

    2. There is a huge difference between a falling birthrate above replacement level, and a birthrate below replacement level. European birthrates have been falling since about 1955, and have been below replacement since the early 70′s.

    “The only real way to increase birthrates would be to stop educating women and limiting job options.”

    This is just another way of saying that children are really expensive and compete for our time and resources. It is quite true that being childless makes one richer materially. So if one believes in nothing but material existence, children become a zero-sum economic computation. You can have kids, or you can get a job and make money. But unless someone decides to sacrifice, there is no future. And why would a materialist sacrifice his material comfort, when all he believes in is material existence? In economic terms, we end up reducing the next generation to one giant Tragedy of the Commons.

    ECJ

  • Zoomie

    ECJ,

    Interestingly, the largest single group of Muslims in Sweden are Bosnians – about 53,000 of them, followed by Farsi speakers from Iran and other Persian countries (about 50,000).

    In general, I would advise taking demographic comments in newspapers with some caution unless they cite reputable academic sources. Such quotes have a habit of being replicated a number of times, and gradually losing their precision and their source citations. The is particularly true of population estimates for Muslim minority populations. There have been a number of glaring cases in the last few years of Muslim population and growth estimates being based on erroneous assumptions. Sadly, such “estimates” make a very short trip to being “facts” when even one well-known news source repeats them.

    A colleague of mine used to say “if you choke a number long enough and hard enough, it will admit to anything.”

    Regards,

    Zoomie

  • ECJ

    Bartholomew

    “I have confidence that the opportunities offered by positive Enlightenment values will ultimately prove more attractive for most immigrants than religious fundamentalism.”

    Which positive Enlightenment value would that be? “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?”

    ECJ

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    Yes, I admit the shocking truth: I enjoy material comfort, eating and being merry (taken to extremes, that leads to the vice of hedonism, but most extremes lead to one vice or another). Indeed, I actually hope for a future where more of the world will have the opportunity to live likewise – especially women, who I think deserve more options in life than spending their best years continually pregnant so that their husbands can feel good about their religious virtue.

  • ECJ

    I should have guessed you would miss the point – probably because you don’t recognize the reference. It was about despair, Bartholomew. Here is your positive enlightenment value. “Life has no meaning. We are all going to die in the end, and there will be no rememberance of us. So let’s indulge ourselves for the time being, because nothing makes any difference anyway.” The Enlightenment has been EXCEPTIONALLY good at reproducing that value – if not children.

    ECJ

  • Stephen A.

    He said: “I didn’t know European and American = white.”

    Then why did you single out Europe and America, and not say Arabs, Indians, Chinese and Africans -the regions that are actually exploding in population – could benefit from population reduction? Because you’re making a point about Western whites (and, granted, those of all races who live in the West.)

    Yes, there is a materialism problem in the West. It’s shared by all cultures. China has more millionaires than the US now. They also have more people, more cars (that pollute more that US cars), and in a few years, by sheer numbers of factories, more pollution.

    One would think an Eastern culture would be “closer” to earth and want to cherish it more, but that’s not the case.

    In fact, none of the liberal stereotypes about the West work quite the way they’re meant to.

    Let me end on a point of agreement. I also think the End Times emphasis has been carried so far by some groups. It’s detremental to not only the environment (the “Who Cares?” Factor) to what’s got to be a neglect of the duty to holiness and to perform service to others – the much-maligned word “works”. These surely can be found in the Bible, if only they look for it.

    But to blame all of our environmental woes on Christianity would be a stretch.

  • ECJ

    Stephen,

    We must deal with individuals not only as consumers, but as producers as well. This the Left almost always overlooks. After all, oil was just an obnoxious mess before someone figured out how to use it. 17th century technology couldn’t sustain the world today. But then we don’t live in the world of Malthus either. Malthus was wrong because people don’t just consume – they also produce.

    But they will only produce this kind of effect if they have reasonable prosperity. Starving people strip a forest bare for firewood. They won’t must care about the impact on the environment when survival is at stake. So Environmentalism is a luxury of the rich. Ironically, the environmentalist requires the very economy he accuses of despoilation.

    In truth, the Earth is much cleaner today then 150 years ago. We for example, no longer have to worry about what to do with hundreds of tons of horse dung every day. Personally, I will take car exhaust.

    ECJ

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    “Then why did you single out Europe and America, and not say Arabs, Indians, Chinese and Africans -the regions that are actually exploding in population – could benefit from population reduction?”

    Because, quite obviously, I was responding to the fact of European population decline, and the claim that this was something terrible. Lower population rates elsewhere would also be welcome.

    “We for example, no longer have to worry about what to do with hundreds of tons of horse dung every day.”

    I suppose if every car became a horse today, the amount of methane would be detrimental, but that’s just the problem of high population again. In a more environmentally sustainable economy, horse dung would actually be a resource. At least, the “worry” about it would be less than the worry we have about nuclear waste. But I’m glad to see that ECJ has some faith in technology, progress, and reason to solve our problems – all good Enlightenment values.

  • Stephen A.

    ECJ, I don’t worry so much about horse dung, I worry about bull excrement. Especially the kind that comes from a worn-out, western-bashing worldview.

    Some tend to forget that even if 600 million Westerners drive cars, they drive cars that are 10x more environmentally friendly with engines 5x more efficient than those 400 million+ cars in the Third World.

    But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good West Roasting, eh?

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I thought about making a BS joke too, but didn’t want to lower the tone.

    But who’s “western-bashing”? You’re the one who appears to despise the achievements of post-war democratic Europe – particularly, it seems, advances in female education and opportunity that undermine their more important functional role of out-breeding Muslims.

    I’m not American-bashing, either: but this anti-Europeanism is so puffed-up with complacent self-righteousness that it needs a bit of puncturing.

    PS: Whether the West has more efficient cars or not is neither here nor there: what are those cars used for? How do they affect urban planning? How quickly are they discarded? What materials are used in their production?

    Anyway, I didn’t suggest that enviromental impact can be reduced to “cars”, or even to just greenhouse gases. However, I’ll note that in terms of of global greenhouse emissions, in 2000 the USA came in at number one (20.6%), and the EU at number three (at 14%, just behind China, which has a far lower per-capita rate than the West). Ref: http://www.pewclimate.org/docUploads/Climate%20Data%20new%2Epdf

  • ECJ

    Bartholomew,

    All these Malthusian arguments are quite beside the point. You may have in you mind some ideal population for Europe, but how exactly are you going to stabilize Europe’s population at that level with its current birthrate hovering near one? Negative rates mean continuous decline.

    In any case, the implications of a falling population for Europe’s prosperity are so dire, Europeans will never allow it to happen. They will import excess labor from the Middle east. Now let’s assume you are right, and these immigrants immediately become typical secular Europeans. Will they not immediately adopt the consumption patterns which you so decry?

    The question on the table is simple. Why are there no children in Europe? Why has an entire culture chosen en masse to invest in itself today rather then the next generation? It amounts to a collective death wish. And the corollary question is also simple. How can a culture so morally weak that it will not reproduce itself possibly assimilate a strong culture like Islam? Were does the weak ever invest the strong? In fact the opposite will happen.

    And there is yet a third question. Can it even be prevented anymore? At some point inertia takes over, and you can’t avoid the collision – no matter how hard you try.

    ECJ

  • http://notfrisco2.com/camassiablog Camassia

    I just wanted to add, the most convincing explanation I’ve seen for the decline in Western birthrates is that, with industrialization, children went from economic assets to economic liabilities. Back in the pre-industrial days children (especially male ones) were assumed to work for you from a young age, inherit the family business, make good alliances in marriage, and care for you in your old age. It was easier to regard children as a gift of God when you so obviously benefited from it. So I have trouble believing the decline in religion itself caused the drop in the birthrate. Our ancestors weren’t somehow more selfless or pious for having children — quite the contrary. The fact that Jesus said his followers would hate their parents, and that marriage was placed below celibacy in the early church (as has been noted) seems to me a comment on just how selfish the premodern family system could be.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    “They will import excess labor from the Middle east.”

    Ever heard of Africa, btw?

    “Now let’s assume you are right, and these immigrants immediately become typical secular Europeans.”

    I never said that. Integrating immigrant groups remains a challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be met in better ways than demanding western women to get back to breeding.

    “Will they not immediately adopt the consumption patterns which you so decry?”

    Sooner or later, which is why I never said that a decline in the European population is a panacea – just a small step in the right direction from a global environmentalist perspective.

    “Why are there no children in Europe?”

    Now you’re being ridiculous.

    “How can a culture so morally weak that it will not reproduce itself possibly assimilate a strong culture like Islam?”

    But Europe is not morally weak. There are strong values in support of human rights, health care, accountable government, good education, and so on (rampant consumerism is a less attractive characteristic, but the good Christians of the USA are no different). But I suppose that’s merely “materialism”…

    How about dealing with Camssia’s point? This conflation of 1950s American family values and historic Christianity is actually problematic.

  • ECJ

    “Now you’re being ridiculous.”

    Actually, I was employing literary license which I presumed would be obvious within context. So I will be specific, then. Why has the birthrate in Europe been hovering around one for almost two generations? When the birthrate stays that low for that long, there is a marked decrease in the number of children.

    You say “Because women have options”, implying better options then motherhood. But ‘better’ is a value judgment. This simply drives the question on level deeper. Why do they prefer to their own material comfort and satifaction? It is not a given that this will occur, but it is occuring all over the continent of Europe. Why do they elevate the present over the future?

    “But Europe is not morally weak.”

    This is really the crux of the argument isn’t it? And your defense of Europe is quite revealing. You listed off a bunch of public policy positions (which … interestingly enough … could have been taken from the Democratic Party Platform.) But that is not the moral weakness to which I refer.

    Rather I refer to the spiritual nihilism and despair which is currently at the heart of Europe. To the major questions it has no answer. “Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of my life?” God is declared dead, and so man is declared free. But the cost is severe – the life of man no longer has meaning. Once begin travelling this road, and you will find no exits. At the end there is only hedonism, boredom, despair, and death. You think this culture strong?

    Perhaps you might say they will find purpose serving their fellow man. They won’t even serve their own children! How can they serve those they cannot see, when they won’t serve those they can see? Like Rousseau, they love man in the abstract. But they hate all those particular instantiations which lay claims of obligation. Which is why Rousseau for all his vaunted love of humanity delivered his children over to the orphanages and certain death. By what standard should I judge his character?

    Besides in the end we all die anyway and who will remember us? What is “suppport for human rights” in the face of this reality? Stalin killed 9-15 million in the Ukrainian famine alone and who is it who will call him to account? Who justifies the innocent? Who condemns the guilty? You will not find answers to these questions in Europe anymore. They no longer believe there are answers. But you will find this attitude. “Eat, Drink, and be Merry. For tomorrow we die.”

    Which is why they no longer have children. Being bored, and lost in despair – they amuse themselves to death.

    ECJ

  • eapoet

    ECJ:

    “Why do they prefer to their own material comfort and satifaction?”

    People always have … that’s why they used to have lots of children (back when doing so came with financial advantages) and why they no longer do (now that doing so comes with a financial cost).

    The big difference modernity has made in terms of “meaning of life” questions is that now the common man AND WOMAN have the time and the opportunity to contemplate it, make decisions about it and achieve it. That the vast majority of people will squander that opportunity should not come as a surprise to anyone. But that we should lament the fact that “the good life” is no longer defined by a tiny minority of philosophers or theologians seems to me truly perverse.

  • ECJ

    It is not philosophers or theologians who determine the purpose of life. It is God who does so by virtue of His authority as Creator. In the absense of God, there is only death. Inevitable. Omnipotent. Irrevokable.

    Once you are dead, what difference does it make what you achieved or what you suffered? What is it that differentiates Good from Evil? Stalin lived a great life. The income of the Soviet Union was at his disposal. If he wanted a woman, he dispatched the NKVD to fetch one – off the street if necessary. Why should I not derive from his life the obvious meaning that life is about being powerful enough to get what you can? What invalidates his experience? Surely Stalin contemplated life, made decisions, and achieved meaning. Can we say the same of his victims? Can we even say of our own authority that Stalin’s personal achievenment was not worth the cost he imposed? Certainly to Stalin it was.

    In 1945, the Soviet Army raped and debauched its way across Europe. This behavior was official Soviet policy – a reward for four years of fighting. Officers who tried to stop it were arrested. No one was ever punished. So in your cold and sterile modern world, what advice would you have for the Polish woman who was raped 294 times in one day – while in the aftermath she contemplates, makes decisions, and trys to achieve meaning in the experience?

    ECJ

  • eapoet

    I would dispatch you as ambassador to Poland to give her consolation by telling her it is god’s plan for her.

  • eapoet

    Talk about cold comfort…

  • ECJ

    Like I said. No answers. Just despair.

    ECJ

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    I see. The idea of a deity who will punish Stalin is clearly more just than Stalin getting away with it. Therefore believing that that is in fact how the universe is designed is a moral act which makes someone better than someone who doesn’t believe such a thing (or who doesn’t think much about it). In contrast, a culture that has actually developed an advanced commitment to human rights and so on can just be sneered at by the godly, on the grounds of Rousseau’s moral failings.

  • craig

    One can see the death of the West in microcosm in all the posts of Bartholomew and eapoet.

    Unable to contemplate God as anything other than an illusionary construct of the human mind that people believe to make themselves feel better about their condition or superior to others who don’t believe, they can only attempt to prove the health and soundness of Euro-socialism by repeated assertion. They are unable to articulate how it can be that God is illusionary and yet human rights, justice, and all these other philosophical constructs are real.

    What is a man that we should respect his rights or demand justice for him? If “society” or “culture” chooses the answer to that question, then Euro-socialism cannot be said to be have any more hold on the truth about man than sharia or Stalinism — it’s simply what the dominant culture prefers. Once a different culture dominates, once homosexuals are stoned in the Place de la Concorde, their philosophy cannot offer any coherent reason for registering a moral complaint. Socially-constructed morality simply is what it is; it cannot be criticized without reference to a transcendent morality that is not itself also socially constructed.

    If the dominant culture prefers personal comfort to continuation of its own existence, there is no suitable word for it other than decadent (etymologically rooted in “decay”). Euro-socialism is demographic suicide. At best, the justification of viewing procreation as an economic transaction amounts to “everybody does it” — mostly true in our age of contraception, but hardly a moral argument. Given the economic negatives of procreation, any moral argument for it has to defend the transcendent value of raising a child versus abandoning or killing it. The more a society rejects knowledge of a transcendent God, the more reasonable the latter options look to it.

  • ECJ

    Well said, craig. Nice epilogue to the thread.

    ECJ


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