This Doesn't Violate the Moratorium -- Does It? :-)
Falling birth rates not just a problem in Europe
December 25, 2005
BY MARK STEYN SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST
"But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John."
If, like increasing numbers of Europeans, you have "some problems with conventional organized religion" (as Harry Potter's J.K. Rowling puts it), you've probably forgotten that bit from the Christmas story. It's Luke 1:13, part of what he'd have called the back story, if he'd been a Hollywood screenwriter rather than a physician.
Only two of the gospels tell the story of Christ's birth. Mark plunges straight into the son of God's grown-up life: He was writing for a Roman audience and, from their perspective, what's important is not where Jesus came from but what he did once he got going. But Matthew was writing for the Jews, and so he dwells on Jesus and his parents mainly to connect the king of the Jews with all that had gone before: He starts with a long family tree tracing Joseph's ancestry back to Abraham.
Like Mark, Luke was writing for a gentile crowd. But, like Matthew, he also dwelt on Jesus' birth and family. And he begins with the tale of two pregnancies. Before Mary's virgin birth, he tells the story of her cousin Elisabeth: Zacharias is surprised to discover his impending fatherhood -- "for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years."
Nonetheless, an aged, barren woman conceives and, in the sixth month of Elisabeth's pregnancy, the angel visits her cousin Mary and tells her that she, too, will conceive.
If you read Luke, the virgin birth seems a logical extension of the earlier miracle -- the pregnancy of an elderly lady. The physician-author had no difficulty accepting both. For Matthew, Jesus' birth is the miracle. Luke leaves you with the impression that all birth -- all life -- is to a degree miraculous and God-given.
There's a lot of that in the Old Testament, too, of course -- going right back to Adam and Eve, and God's injunction to go forth and multiply. Or as Yip Harburg explained in his rollicking biblical precis in the show ''Finian's Rainbow'':
''Then she looked at him
And he looked at her
And they knew immediately
What the world was fer.
He said 'Give me my cane.'
He said 'Give me my hat.'
The time has come
To begin the Begat.''
Confronted with all the begetting in the Old Testament, the modern mind says, ''Well, naturally, these primitive societies were concerned with children. They needed someone to provide for them in their old age.'' In advanced Western society, we don't have to worry about that; we automatically have someone to provide for us in our old age: the state.
But the state -- at least in its modern social-democratic welfare incarnation -- needs children at least as much as those old-time Jews did. And the problem with much of the advanced world is that, like Elisabeth, it's barren. Collectively barren, I hasten to add. Individually, it's made up of millions of fertile women, who voluntarily opt for no children at all or one designer kid at 39. In Italy, the home of the Church, the birth rate's down to 1.2 children per couple -- or about half ''replacement rate.'' You can't buck that kind of arithmetic.
Here's a story from Friday's Japan Times:
''Japan's population has started shrinking for the first time this year, health ministry data showed Thursday, presenting the government with pressing challenges on the social and economic front, including ensuring provision of social security services and securing the labor force.''
Happy New Year, guys! And, as the reporter adds, ''Japan joins Germany and Italy in the ranks of countries where a decline in population has already set in.'' And don't forget Russia, which is even further ahead in the demographic death spiral. Of the great powers of the 20th century, America's still healthy birth rate, like its still healthy Christianity, is now an anomaly.
Demography is not necessarily destiny. Today's high Muslim birth rates will fall, and probably fall dramatically, as the Roman Catholic birth rates in Italy, Ireland and Quebec have. But demographics is a game of last man standing. It's no consolation that Muslim birth rates will be as bad as yours in 2050 if yours are off the cliff right now. The last people around in any numbers will determine the kind of society we live in.
You can sort of feel that happening already. ''Multiculturalism'' implicitly accepts that, for a person of broadly Christian heritage, Christianity is an accessory, an option; whereas, for a person of Muslim background, Islam is a given. That's why, as practiced by Buckinghamshire County Council in England, multiculturalism means All Saints Church can't put up one sheet of paper announcing its Christmas carol service on the High Wycombe Library notice board, but, inside the library, Rehana Nazir, the ''multicultural services librarian,'' can host a party to celebrate Eid.
To those of us watching Europe from afar, it seems amazing that no Continental politician is willing to get to grips with the real crisis facing Europe in the 21st century: the lack of Europeans. If America believes in the separation of church and state, in radically secularist Europe the state is the church, as Jacques Chirac's ban on head scarves, crucifixes and skull caps made plain. Alas, it's an insufficient faith.
By contrast, if Christianity is merely a ''myth,'' it's truly an immaculately conceived one, beginning with the decision to establish Christ's divinity in the miracle of his birth. The obligation to have children may be a lot of repressive Catholic mumbo-jumbo, but it's also highly rational. What's irrational is modern Eutopia's indifference to new life.
A year or so back, I had a conversation with an European Union official who, apropos a controversial proposal to tout the Continent's religious heritage in the new constitution, kept using the phrase ''Europe's post-Christian future.'' He used the phrase approvingly. But the evidence suggests that, once you reach the post-Christian stage, you don't have much of a future. Luke, a man of faith and a man of science, could have told them that.
©Mark Steyn, 2005