Religious fundamentalists have a lot of babies.
They don’t even have to be fundies. I mean, there’s clearly something in holy water that makes a Catholic woman’s uterus extra-powerful.
One of Geoffrey Botkin’s catchiest contributions to patriarchy is his branding of the dominion vision in his “two-hundred-year plan for multigenerational faithfulness”: a concept that started as an Excel spreadsheet he put together stretching from his marriage in 1980 to his projected death, in 2038, to the culmination of his vision in 2180. It has since become a cornerstone of the Vision Forum message and the focus of a new three-day ministry conference teaching Vision Forum followers to emulate Botkin’s ambitious plan.
Botkin’s personal plan plots major family accomplishments on his Excel sheet — both completed and those they aim for, such as books published, films made, churches planted — and priorities are set out for the family that will unfold over the course of generations: a thorough listing of goals set down for generations of children yet unborn. The generations themselves are projected as well: Botkin’s sons (still unmarried) are listed with their projected marriage dates, the projected births and number of their children, and their projected deaths. His grandsons and great-grandsons are charted as well until two hundred years’ worth of Botkin heirs and accomplishments have accumulated. At the end of his two-hundred-year plan, Botkins estimates that he’ll have been the patriarch of some 186,000 male descendants, all of whom, he is confident, will begin their own two-hundred-year plans modeled on Botkin’s ideals…
Eric Kaufmann has been thinking about this problem for a while now. He believes that religious fundamentalists will grow/breed even more rapidly this century — especially in the West.
The new book explaining his theory is called Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century.
A recent article about the book in the Telegraph (UK) carried the headline: “Atheism is doomed: the contraceptive Pill is secularism’s cyanide tablet.”
Kaufmann graciously agreed to do an interview for this site.
In it, I ask him whether atheists should be having more babies (because I’d *totally* volunteer to help out), whether his thesis is wrong because studies show increases in the percentage of non-religious people (at least in the US), and whether this religious baby-making trend will change in the future:
How did you become so interested in this topic?
My background is in studies of national identity and ethnic conflict. In my previous books, I focused on Canada, the United States and Northern Ireland. In all cases, the changing ethnic makeup of the population is a major issue and has at different times contributed to ethnic conflict. Having lived much of my life in Vancouver and London, I have always been aware of rapid ethnic change. Having said this, assimilation has the power to break down ethnic differences. But with religion, the assimilation process requires secularisation, which is not so automatic. In the US, for example, the pot melted Catholics and Jews with Protestants, but the division between fundamentalists of all religions and seculars remained, and has solidified into the battle lines of the so-called ‘culture wars’.
Why do fundamentalists have so many babies? Is this a relatively recent trend?
Fundamentalists have large families because they believe in traditional gender roles, pronatalism (‘go forth and multiply’) and the subordination of individualism to the needs of the religious community.
Is it recent? Yes. First, when we all lived on the land, had no contraception and poor medicine and sanitation, most people — pious or otherwise — needed to have large families to survive. Now, family size has been freed from material constraints by urbanisation, modern medicine and contraception. So values come to the fore, and seculars express their values in smaller families while fundamentalists resist the trend. Fundamentalists don’t actually have more kids than they used to, but nearly all survive, and their relative advantage over others grows. It’s also worth mentioning that fundamentalism is a modern (post-1850 or post-1900) trend: a reaction against secularism or secularised (read: moderate) religion that has become more intense since the 1960s sexual revolution.
Are fundamentalists concerned with the prospect of an overpopulated earth?
No — they feel God will provide and consider such concerns ‘anti-people’.
Is there any way to convince fundamentalists to have fewer children? Do you think the trend will change in the future?
I think there are different species of fundamentalist. The more open ones, such as pentecostalists or neo-evangelicals, are only slightly above average when it comes to fertility. So it is really the closed fundamentalists, like the ultra-Orthodox Jews, Salafi Muslims, or even many Mormons and neo-Calvinist Protestants, that one has to worry about. And here I think there is an explicit determination to set one’s face against modernity. So fertility is unlikely to fall. This is something quite different from, say, traditional Catholic or Muslim fertility, both of which were high for ethnocultural reasons but have fallen with integration into mainstream society. I think one can try and lean on fundamentalists by flagging up an ethic of planetary and civic responsibility, but this will probably fall on deaf ears.
Is this trend occurring in certain parts of the world only? Where? Within certain faiths? Which ones?
The trend is more advanced in the developed world, where urbanisation, contraception and modern medicine have reached their height. The pattern is most immediate and intense within Judaism where the ultra-Orthodox are already a significant share (over 10 percent) of the population and have three or four times as many children as liberals and seculars. But even within Christianity and Islam, fundamentalists have twice the family size of seculars.
Do most of the children born into these religious families remain in the faith?
Yes. First off, stronger religions retain members more effectively than moderate faiths because when you leave a fundamentalist religion, you leave your entire life — family, friends, leisure — behind, not just one compartment. Moreover, retention rates have been rising as fundamentalists have become better organised and began to harness modern technologies of communications, media and record keeping, which help weave a whole world around their members. I use the analogy of nations, which became institutionalised into our contemporary system of nation-states with the delineation of borders, maps, censuses and bureaucracies. That gave them better retention and fixity. So too with fundamentalist religious sects.
Are atheists having fewer babies than “average” or are we simply not keeping up with the religious?
I think the evidence is pretty clear that atheists have spearheaded the trend toward below-2.1 children which is now universal in the developed world. So it’s a case of everyone having fewer, but the relative gap between religious and secular widening. When the religious have 2 and atheists 1, that’s a 100 percent advantage. 4 versus 3, which might have been the case a generation or two ago, is only a 25 percent advantage.
This trend of “quiverfull” Christian families and large Catholic families (to name a couple) has been around for a while… And yet, the percentages of non-religious people keep increasing according to recent polls. Does that contradict your thesis?
No. The composition of a population is always a product of the relative pace of secularisation and religious growth. I use the analogy of a treadmill. Seculars are running on a treadmill that is tilting up and moving against them because of their low fertility and immigration. The religious — notably fundamentalists — are standing still or walking backward, but their treadmill is pushing them forward and tilting downhill. So in Europe in the late twentieth century, seculars were running fast enough to overcome their demographic disadvantage and overtook the faithful. But today, secularism is slowing down outside England and Catholic Europe, and is facing a more difficult incline from the treadmill of demography. London is a good example: it is more religious now than 20 years ago despite secularisation, simply because of religious immigration and fertility.
Should atheists start having more babies?
Tough question. My instinctive answer would be ‘yes’, but this would only be effective if immigration were reduced and religious fundamentalists responded to calls for smaller families, which is unlikely. There is also the matter of global warming to worry about — we don’t want a population footrace with fundamentalism. So in the end, the most promising course is to somehow attract more people away from fundamentalist religion, no easy task.
What information do you hope readers take from your book?
I’m interested in generating a debate about the impact of our global demographic turmoil, what Jack Goldstone recently termed the ‘New Population Bomb’, on the ideological direction of our societies. Most people assume that events, policy debates and cultural currents are the main influence on where our societies go. Francis Fukuyama assumes that the end of the Cold War, the failure of socialism and the spread of liberal-democratic values will lead to an ‘End of History’. I don’t discount culture and politics, but in a post-ideological, post-heroic age, slower-moving forces such as demography can come to the fore and generate powerful social changes.
Kaufmann’s book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century will be published next week.