Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

After destroying religion and marriage, Europe tries to convince people to make babies

Fertility rates in European countries

Fertility rates in European countries (click for larger image)

This is from the radically leftist New York Times, of all places.

They write:

Recently, Sex and Society, a nonprofit group that provides much of Denmark’s sex education, adjusted its curriculum. The group no longer has a sole emphasis on how to prevent getting pregnant but now also talks about pregnancy in a more positive light.

It is all part of a not-so-subtle push in Europe to encourage people to have more babies. Denmark, like a number of European countries, is growing increasingly anxious about low birthrates. Those concerns have only been intensified by the region’s financial and economic crisis, with high unemployment rates among the young viewed as discouraging potential parents.

The Italian health minister described Italy as a “dying country” in February. Germany has spent heavily on family subsidies but has little to show for it. Greece’s depression hasfurther stalled its birthrate. And in Denmark, the birthrate has been below the so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s.

“For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant,” said Marianne Lomholt, the national director of Sex and Society. “Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant.”

The demographic shift is more pressing in Europe than almost any other major region, save Japan. There are an estimated 28 Europeans 65 or older for every 100 residents ages 20 to 64, almost twice the world average, according to the United Nations, and compared with 24.7 for the United States. By the end of the century, the United Nations expects the European figure to double.

Such trends will transform societies, potentially reducing economic growth and increasing stress on public pension systems and requiring more elder care. Japan already faces existential questions in a country whereadult diaper sales are beginning to eclipse those of baby diapers.

But there is not a consensus about the impact of demographics. Some see a natural maturing of developed societies. Others see disaster ahead, because with fewer workers and more retirees, the active work force faces an increased burden to sustain social programs.

Productivity gains over time, though, can make up for such population stresses. Declining birthrates can also lead to labor shortages, and Germany has faced a gap in skilled labor. But that is hardly an issue now for much of Europe, which is mired in high unemployment.

OK, so it’s a crisis. But how did it happen?

Nicholas Eberstadt explains what’s happening to marriage and parenting, in this Wall Street Journal article.

Why is it happening?

All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

People are rejecting responsibilities, expectations, and obligations because they are selfish.

When he talks about Europe, he offers an explanation for this:

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

“Perenially conditional, no-fault unions”. That means that either party can leave at any time, for any reason.

Basically, people became skeptical of objective morality and the afterlife, and they have decided to follow their hearts and go more the most happiness they can have in this life. And they’ve noticed that relationships with other people – with all the nasty expectations, obligations and responsibilities – get in the way of this self-centeredness. To get married and have children is to embrace responsibility. It means that you are accepting the obligation to learn the needs of other people and care for those needs. Something has gone wrong in European society where these social obligations declined, just as religion declined. And the same thing is being taught to the next generation in our most prestigious universities.

This is a bird’s-eye view. I’ll have a closer look at the problem in my next post.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , ,

The global shift away from marriage and child-bearing

Nicholas Eberstadt explains what’s happening to marriage and parenting, in this Wall Street Journal article.

I just want to pull out the parts that seem interesting.

Why is it happening?

All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

People are rejecting responsibilities, expectations, and obligations because they are selfish.

When he talks about Europe, he offers an explanation for this:

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

“Perenially conditional, no-fault unions”. That means that either party can leave at any time, for any reason.

Who is hurt most when marital stability declines?

Kids:

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

And the elderly:

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

I did a quick search for pro-marriage policies and came across an article from USA Today. The author wanted to bash a legislator’s pro-marriage ideas, and to do that she found a single mother to quote who disagrees with pro-marriage policies.

Look:

Indianapolis mother Amanda Louden, 46, has seen parenthood from both married and unmarried standpoints.

She had three sons with her former husband, deciding to marry to be traditional about it and for the convenience of everyone having the same last name. Louden later divorced her husband and had another son with her then-boyfriend.

And she says she doesn’t think marriage made that much of a difference in raising her children.

“It’s really an oversimplification to say that single parenting is bad,” Louden said. “Intact families where both parents are involved in their children’s lives, that’s good. I’m in favor of that. But let’s not demonize families that don’t have that. It’s demonizing people who are doing whatever they can.”

The father of her youngest son didn’t seem ready or interested in a live-in family role, she said. He became less involved and eventually stopped visiting.

Louden is now raising four sons on her own as a single mother. She disagrees that children with married parents are somehow automatically “better” than hers.

If we are serious about marriage, we are going to have to change attitudes like that. We have to get used to responding to people who say that marriage doesn’t matter with real, peer-reviewed evidence. Broken families arise when people think that there are no best practices that should affect their decision making beyond “follow your heart”. Following your heart get no disapproval at all from the culture. Young people often don’t have friends who will challenge them when they are about to make a bad decision. Young people will often seek out peers who agree with them, and avoid parents and other responsible adults who disagree. Peer-approval – that’s how disasters happen. The only way to stop people from messing up their lives is to tell them before they mess up their lives – and that means breaking through “follow your heart” as gently and effectively as possible.

One reason why so many marriages break up is recreational premarital sex.

CNS News explains:

The seeds of this sexual maturity are sown in early childhood, when a child’s married parents model faithful love of each other, guide him or her through modesty to a criteria of selecting a spouse and courting the right young man or woman, eventually leading to marriage and a family of their own. Without this guidance—without married parents who have modeled a healthy, monogamous relationship since the child’s birth—children generally get lost in pre-marital sex, leading to multiple sexual partners before marriage, in turn leading most into cohabitation and later divorce or permanent single parenthood. The culture has lost its sense of sexual morality.

[…][M]ost people do want marriage for themselves and for society; unfortunately, most have severed the connection between premarital chastity and later marriage stability, not knowing that the more sexual partners before marriage the greater the likelihood of divorce.  Ninety-five percent of those whose only sexual partner ever is their spouse are still in their first marriage after five years. This figure drops to 62 percent for women who had one sexual partner other than their husband (before they married), and drops down further to 50 percent for those who had two such sexual partners before marrying their husband.

Therefore, if the nation wants stable marriage, we first must reinvest in shepherding youth to be chaste.  This has become more and more difficult for parents as the sexual principles of radical feminism and sexual autonomy pervades our courts, schools, colleges and media, and sadly, even to some extent in our churches.

Yes, in our churches.

But there’s more to restoring marriage than just confrontation at the one-on-one level. From a policy point of view, we should be voting for policies that promote marriage and child-bearing within marriage. I think we should be giving rewards to married couples who stay together and have children, not to people who want to try any other crazy arrangement that isn’t as good for kids. Not every association of people is as stable and healthy as marriage, and the government shouldn’t be treating these alternatives as we treat the real thing.

You can look over a list of pro-marriage policy ideas here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , ,

Correcting four myths about the history of the Crusades

Crusader

Crusader

Here is an interesting article from First Principles Journal.

Intro:

The verdict seems unanimous. From presidential speeches to role-playing games, the crusades are depicted as a deplorably violent episode in which thuggish Westerners trundled off, unprovoked, to murder and pillage peace-loving, sophisticated Muslims, laying down patterns of outrageous oppression that would be repeated throughout subsequent history. In many corners of the Western world today, this view is too commonplace and apparently obvious even to be challenged.

But unanimity is not a guarantee of accuracy. What everyone “knows” about the crusades may not, in fact, be true. From the many popular notions about the crusades, let us pick four and see if they bear close examination.

The four myths:

  • Myth #1: The crusades represented an unprovoked attack by Western Christians on the Muslim world.
  • Myth #2: Western Christians went on crusade because their greed led them to plunder Muslims in order to get rich.
  • Myth #3: Crusaders were a cynical lot who did not really believe their own religious propaganda; rather, they had ulterior, materialistic motives.
  • Myth #4: The crusades taught Muslims to hate and attack Christians.

Here’s the most obvious thing you should know. The Crusades were defensive actions:

In a.d. 632, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, North Africa, Spain, France, Italy, and the islands of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica were all Christian territories. Inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire, which was still fully functional in the eastern Mediterranean, orthodox Christianity was the official, and overwhelmingly majority, religion. Outside those boundaries were other large Christian communities—not necessarily orthodox and Catholic, but still Christian. Most of the Christian population of Persia, for example, was Nestorian. Certainly there were many Christian communities in Arabia.

By a.d. 732, a century later, Christians had lost Egypt, Palestine, Syria, North Africa, Spain, most of Asia Minor, and southern France. Italy and her associated islands were under threat, and the islands would come under Muslim rule in the next century. The Christian communities of Arabia were entirely destroyed in or shortly after 633, when Jews and Christians alike were expelled from the peninsula.6 Those in Persia were under severe pressure. Two-thirds of the formerly Roman Christian world was now ruled by Muslims.

What had happened? Most people actually know the answer, if pressed—though for some reason they do not usually connect the answer with the crusades. The answer is the rise of Islam. Every one of the listed regions was taken, within the space of a hundred years, from Christian control by violence, in the course of military campaigns deliberately designed to expand Muslim territory at the expense of Islam’s neighbors. Nor did this conclude Islam’s program of conquest. The attacks continued, punctuated from time to time by Christian attempts to push back. Charlemagne blocked the Muslim advance in far western Europe in about a.d. 800, but Islamic forces simply shifted their focus and began to island-hop across from North Africa toward Italy and the French coast, attacking the Italian mainland by 837. A confused struggle for control of southern and central Italy continued for the rest of the ninth century and into the tenth. In the hundred years between 850 and 950, Benedictine monks were driven out of ancient monasteries, the Papal States were overrun, and Muslim pirate bases were established along the coast of northern Italy and southern France, from which attacks on the deep inland were launched. Desperate to protect victimized Christians, popes became involved in the tenth and early eleventh centuries in directing the defense of the territory around them.

If you asked me what are the two best books on the Crusades, I would answer God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Baylor professor Rodney Stark and The Concise History of the Crusades by Professor Thomas F. Madden. If you get this question a lot from atheists, then I recommend you pick these up. Anything by Rodney Stark is useful for Christians, in fact.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arthur Brooks: Europe’s core problems are demographic, not economic

AEI President Arthur C. Brooks writes about Europe’s most pressing problem in the far-left New York Times, of all places.

He writes:

According to the United States Census Bureau’s International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries’ early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits — and invest less in opportunity for future generations.

Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That’s up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That’s where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.

There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?

Finally, consider employment. Last September, the United States’ labor force participation rate — the percentage of adults who are either working or looking for work — reached a 36-year low of just 62.7 percent.

Yet as bad as that is, the United States looks decent compared with most of Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic like to say that we live to work, while they work to live. That might be compelling if more of them were actually working. According to the most recent data available from the World Bank, the labor force participation rate in the European Union in 2013 was 57.5 percent. In France it was 55.9 percent. In Italy, just 49.1 percent.

[…]It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.

Either people keep their own money and run their own lives, or bureaucrats take their money and make the decisions about social programs. In America, we used to prefer the former, but Europe has been preferring the latter for decades. Would I get married and have kids in a society run by European bureaucrats? Do I want secular leftist public schools to tell my children what to believe? It doesn’t sound very exciting to me. And I’ll bet it doesn’t sound very exciting to a lot of men in Europe. Men don’t want to be taxed, so that they can be replaced by the state’s social programs. We want to chart our own course, and guide our own families. But that’s not OK with people who want to replace men with government social programs.

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As Christianity declines in Europe, churches are put up for sale

This sad story is from the Wall Street Journal.

Excerpt:

Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.

This is the Arnhem Skate Hall, an uneasy reincarnation of the Church of St. Joseph, which once rang with the prayers of nearly 1,000 worshipers.

It is one of hundreds of churches, closed or threatened by plunging membership, that pose a question for communities, and even governments, across Western Europe: What to do with once-holy, now-empty buildings that increasingly mark the countryside from Britain to Denmark?

[…]The closing of Europe’s churches reflects the rapid weakening of the faith in Europe, a phenomenon that is painful to both worshipers and others who see religion as a unifying factor in a disparate society.

[…]The Church of England closes about 20 churches a year. Roughly 200 Danish churches have been deemed nonviable or underused. The Roman Catholic Church in Germany has shut about 515 churches in the past decade.

But it is in the Netherlands where the trend appears to be most advanced. The country’s Roman Catholic leaders estimate that two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be out of commission in a decade, and 700 of Holland’s Protestant churches are expected to close within four years.

[…]As communities struggle to reinvent their old churches, some solutions are less dignified than others. In Holland, one ex-church has become a supermarket, another is a florist, a third is a bookstore and a fourth is a gym. In Arnhem, a fashionable store called Humanoid occupies a church building dating to 1889, with racks of stylish women’s clothing arrayed under stained-glass windows.

In Bristol, England, the former St. Paul’s church has become the Circomedia circus training school. Operators say the high ceilings are perfect for aerial equipment like trapezes.

In Edinburgh, Scotland, a Lutheran church has become a Frankenstein-themed bar, featuring bubbling test tubes, lasers and a life-size Frankenstein’s monster descending from the ceiling at midnight.

Jason MacDonald, a supervisor at the pub, says he has never heard complaints about the reuse. “It’s for one simple reason: There are hundreds and hundreds of old churches and no one to go to them,” Mr. MacDonald said. “If they weren’t repurposed, they would just lie empty.”

Many churches, especially smaller ones, are becoming homes, and that has spawned an entire industry to connect would-be buyers with old churches.

The churches of England and Scotland list available properties online, with descriptions worthy of a realty firm. St. John’s church in Bacup, England, for example, is said to feature “a lofty nave as well as basement rooms with stone-vaulted ceilings,” and can be had for about $160,000.

There are many reasons why Christianity has declined in Europe, but surely the widespread embrace of left-wing economic policies – even by evangelical Christians – is one of the largest.

Here’s a fairly recent paper (PDF) that explains it:

What accounts for cross-national variation in religiosity as measured by church attendance and non-religious rates? Examining answers from both secularization theory and the religious economy perspective, we assert that cross-national variation in religious participation is a function of government welfare spending and provide a theory that links macro-sociological outcomes with individual rationality. Churches historically have provided social welfare. As governments gradually assume many of these welfare functions, individuals with elastic preferences for spiritual goods will reduce their level of participation since the desired welfare goods can be obtained from secular sources. Cross-national data on welfare spending and religious participation show a strong negative relationship between these two variables after controlling for other aspects of modernization.

I have many friends in the UK who classify themselves as evangelical Christians. They almost all embrace moderate to leftist economics, and they complain to me about why the church is in decline, why there is no interest in apologetics, why they can’t find Christian girlfriends, why they can’t get speaking engagements. The answer is, of course, that by majoring only in theology and apologetics, they have crafted the rope that their secular allies in government are using to hang them. Leftism is embraced by European Christians in part because they don’t want to be like those dastardly Americans with their free enterprise system and their rule of law and their private property and their law-abiding gun ownership.

It just goes to show you why Christianity suffers when we focus on piety at the expense of practicality. Too much A. W. Tozer, not enough F.A. Hayek. I doubt my well-meaning UK Christian friends – who are so proud of their laughable NHS health care – even know who F.A. Hayek is. To think that Lady Thatcher ones brandished “The Constitution of Liberty” by F.A. Hayek and declared “this is what we believe!”. But ordinary UK Christians do not believe what she believes, and now they must reap what they sowed with their knee-jerk rejection of the free enterprise system. Ignorance of economics killed Christianity in Europe, and pious, risk-averse Christians were willing participants in the murder.

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