Faith and Demography
Shall the Religious
Inherit the Earth?
by Eric Kaufmann
Transaction Publishers; 360 pp. £15
Did you know that Osama bin Laden has twenty-five children? And that his Dad had fifty-four? (Osama seems to be number 17.) Bin Laden Sr. was careful never to have more than four wives at a time, though, divorcing older wives in order to marry younger ones, thus staying within the proper Koranic bounds. Like his son, he was a pious man, his great worldly success notwithstanding.
Fifty-four kids! Piety will do that for ya. It is a commonplace observation that religious populations are more fecund than irreligious ones: and that within religions, it is the most devout and most fundamentalist subgroups that have the highest fertility. A lot of us have been wondering how the demographic consequences of all that will play out across the coming decades. Will secularization and attrition contain the swelling numbers of the devout? Or will the religious inherit the earth?
Eric Kaufmann's new book explores the issue. Because Kaufmann is a British academic, and his book has so far been published only over there, it follows British "shall" usage rather than American "will," posing in its title the question Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?
Kaufmann got my attention with a previous book, The Rise and Fall of Anglo-America (2004). There he explored the "dual consciousness" of Americans — the tension between our awareness of ourselves as an originally Anglo-Protestant ethny (with some admixtures of course) and the Enlightenment universalist humanism of our founding documents. Kaufmann describes how, through the middle decades of the 20th century, the tension was resolved at last by a repudiation of ethnic American-ness. Americans in their private lives embraced expressive individualism, while political and educational elites promulgated the doctrine that ours is a "proposition nation" open to all ethnies.
That repudiation was followed by the logically consequent triumphs of multiculturalism, affirmative action, mass Third World immigration, romantic xenophilia, and other manifestations of Euro-ethnic self-negation.
(Kevin MacDonald, the Judaism-as-a-group-evolutionary-strategy guy, took on Rise and Fall on the VDARE.com website last year. MacDonald's view is that Anglo-Protestant America did not commit suicide, as Kaufmann claims, but was murdered by you-know-who. Kaufmann made a spirited reply which in my opinion gets the better of the argument. For my American Conservative review of MacDonald's Culture of Critique, see here.)
Kaufmann brings the same good analytical sensibility to his new book (which has its own website here). He addresses the title question region by region: the U.S.A., Islamia, Europe, Israel. There is not much good news for secularists, nor even for liberal and moderate believers. Secularism is at present advancing steadily in the U.S.A., for example, but mostly at the expense of moderate congregations with birth rates close to those of the secular. Neither group is anything like demographically competitive with fundamentalist Protestant sects like the Quiverfull movement.
In the Gospel Community Church of Coxsackie, New York, the pastor has eight children, the assistant pastor eleven and parishioner Wendy Dufkin, to take just one example, thirteen.
Not quite up to bin Laden standards, but impressive none the less. And as newer groups like this establish themselves, older ones like the Amish and Mormons maintain their demographic vitality and low rates of attrition.
So it is elsewhere. Israel was, at its founding, quite aggressively secular, the intensely religious Haredim a mere trace element — one, furthermore, that regarded Zionism as a form of idolatry.
The founders of the new Jewish state considered the Haredim a fading relic, but they worried that anti-Zionist Haredi agitators would sway the Great Powers towards the Arab side …
Hence the many civic exemptions and privileges enjoyed by the Haredim. They were a mere relic, their numbers small — what did it matter if (for example) they were exempted from military service? As late as 1977, religious deferments numbered just 800. In 2007 they were 55,000 — one in nine of the eligible age cohort. The social and political strains caused by swelling Haredim numbers are reshaping Israel. That the Haredim are easily out-breeding Israeli Arabs is a point in their favor, from the point of view of secular Israelis, but a small one.
One piece of good news is that the myth of "Eurabia" — a Europe with Muslim majorities by mid-century — is not supported by rigorous demographic analysis. "Most large Western European countries will be between 10 and 15 percent Muslim in 2050, though Sweden may approach 20-25 percent." Bad enough, but not as dire as the predictions of the Eurabia propagandists. Even this forecast assumes that current rates of immigration will continue; but the recent electoral advance of Geert Wilders' party in the Netherlands throws that assumption into question, pushing the Eurabia specter even further away.
Kaufmann's book makes clear that the acute conflicts will in any case be not between Muslim and Christian, Jew and Arab, or religious and secular. They will be between the intensely devout on the one hand, with their Total Fertility Rates of four point something or five point something, and the nominally religious or irreligious on the other, with TFRs of one point something.
The secular-Jewish Kaufmann does not believe that fundamentalism can be stopped. His answer to the title question is yes, the religious shall inherit the earth. What an astonishing development in human affairs! Cultural historian A.N. Wilson (God's Funeral, The Victorians) has pointed out that if we could transport an educated mid-19th-century European to our own time, nothing would astonish him more than the survival of religion.
Looking into the future, what is doubly astonishing, if Kaufmann is correct, is that the religion dominating the world of our grandchildren will not be the subtle intellectualism of Christian seminaries — of a Tillich, a Niebuhr, a Küng. It will be the literalist-fundamentalist obscurantism of Muslim Salafis, Jewish "Ultras," Young Earth Creationists, and Mormon splinter sects. In a world dominated by these closed-minded babblers, what place will there be for literature, science, free inquiry, or freedom of any kind?
God help us! Though of course, if fanatical devotion is what He wants, He's more likely to help them.