Margaret Cabaniss has a knack for finding the most interesting headlines, and this one is pretty jarring:
VATICAN ECONOMIST: RECESSION CAUSED BY LOW BIRTHRATE
Blames Small Families, Poor Savings Habits
ROME, FEB. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Bankers are not the cause of the global economic crisis, according to the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Rather, the cause is ordinary people who do not “believe in the future” and have few or no children.
“The true cause of the crisis is the decline in the birth rate,” Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said in an interview on Vatican Television’s “Octava Dies.”
He noted the Western world’s population growth rate is at 0% — that is, two children per couple — and this, he said, has led to a profound change in the structure of society. “Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”
“With the decline in births,” he explained, “there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world. And there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective.
“In practice the fixed costs of this economic and social structure increase. How dramatically they increase depends on how evidently unbalanced the structure of the population is and how much wealth it has. The fixed costs however increase: The costs of health increase and the social costs increase.”
I urge you to read the whole thing. Certainly something to ponder and talk about at the dinner table.
It brought to mind something I read yesterday, though, out of Benedictus -that excellent collection of excerpts from the writings of Pope Benedict XVI:
We should see that human beings can never retreat into the realm of what they are capable of. In everything that they do, they constitute themselves. Therefore they themselves, and creation with its good and evil, are always present as their standard, and when they reject this standard they deceive themselves. They do not free themselves, but place themselves in opposition to the truth. And that means that they are destroying themselves and the world. This, then, is the first and most important thing that appears in the story of Adam, and it has to do with the nature of human guilt and thus with our entire existence. The order of the covenant – the nearness of the God of the covenant, the limitations imposed by good an devil, the inner standard of the human person, creatureliness: all of this is placed in doubt. Here we can at once say that at the very heart of sin lies human beings’ denial of their creatureliness, inasmuch as they refuse to accept the standard and the limitations that are implicit in it. They do not want to be creatures, do not want to be subject to a standard, do not want to be dependent. They consider their dependence on God’s creative love to be an imposition from without . . . Human beings who consider dependence on the highest love as slavery and who try to deny the truth about themselves, which is their creatureliness, do not free themselves; they destroy truth and love. They do not make themselves gods, which in fact they cannot do, but rather caricatures, pseudo-gods, slaves of their own abilities, which then drag them down.
— In the Beginning…: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall .
Again and again, we find ourselves confronting the truth that if we try to make godlings of ourselves, our trending moralities, our reason, we do not flourish; we diminish until we disappear. The weakening of the family, the nullification of its importance, the cheapening of human life that has resulted in our thinking of children as chooseable “burdens” rather than absolute blessings worth pursuing, all of this assists in our self-suicide, until we are the merest pinpoint of light (the leftovers of what Divine Flashes of Light we have allowed) surrounded by the empty, dark “nothing” with which we have replaced God, worship, the notion of something greater than ourselves.
And, even more ironically, the modern practice of “liberalism” -vaunted as the most efficient vehicle for human freedom- has turned out to be the delivery system of diminishment. The “freedom” it espouses is a freedom not to grow; it is a freedom to turn inward, like a fetus, rather than outward, like new life, new energy.
It is a dubious freedom that hurls us toward a disconnect -a gaping cavern. And after we have plunged into it, the end will be silence. And human absence.
Culture of Life brings life; energy, newness, progression. Culture of death brings death; the rest is silence.
I think Ettore Gotti Tedeschi is on to something. And so is Benedict.
And so is Mark Steyn: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”
A line that straight downhill is spooky: it cries out for a cause. It is such a steep slope that it appears there was a national decision, after some initial indecision before the 1970s, to stop having babies.
Can a civilization exhaust itself? Turn so inward and self-indulgent? Is there some hidden virus or amoeba acting to suppress the desire to breed? Maybe an adequate diet—in exact opposition to theory—causes that suppression.
It isn’t just Japan. It’s Italy, Sweden, Germany, Austria, and on and on. Even the “developing” countries show signs of the same disease: the better they get (materially) the less they breed. So far, the US is holding its own and still getting to business. Nobody knows why.
Perhaps it is because the US is still nominally “more religious” than those countries.
UPDATE II: But what about the Vampires?
John Paul II’s Theology of the Body