The Gospel Coalition

Jonathan Last, reviewing the new book Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics:
The world is heading for demographic catastrophe. Fertility rates have been falling across the globe for 40 years, to the point where, today, Israel is the only First World country where women have enough babies to sustain their population. The developing world is heading in the same direction, fast. Only 3 percent of the world's population live in a country where the fertility rate is not dropping.

As fertility falls, populations shrink. As populations shrink, economies will sputter. Western countries will struggle to support too many retirees without enough workers, and the rest of the world (particularly places such as China and Russia) will be challenged just to maintain order as societies change in unprecedented ways: Most people will have neither brothers, sisters, aunts, nor uncles, and there will be no such thing as an extended family.

This forecast may sound apocalyptic, but it's nearly conventional wisdom among the demographers and economists who study such things.

On the positive side, for this country at least, if current trends continue, America has a chance to actually be more religious in 2050 than today. The least secular people in this country are having the most children (have you ever met a Christian home schooler?!). In general the most conservative states have the highest fertility rates and anecdotal evidence suggests that a younger generation of devout Christians are trying to have more children, not fewer. A silver lining perhaps.


Comments:

[...] DeYoung has a blog post in which he quotes Jonathan Last reviewing the book Population Decline and the Remaking of Great [...]

patricia

April 25, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Yes, Matthew, I was angry. Is it possible to be angry and not be destructive? Yes, it is. There is nothing wrong with being angry over the glaring inadequacies of a group that believes it has the truth about God and the universe. But I demeaned the IQ of the people involved and that was wrong. I apologize. Instead I will redirect the anger in proper direction: the unwillingness of the collective "you" to use your God-given intelligence to go beyond your backdoor. Why are you not willing? You cannot, without it, maintain your belief that you know the truth about all of creation and the great God who made it all.

I knew your uncle Gerald! How dear! He graduated a year behind me at Dordt. I liked him--we'd spend some time together at a Calvin Conference for Seerveld's retirement--a lot of years ago. I didn't know he'd passed on. It sounds like you loved him deeply. I'm sorry, Matthew. He was too young.

I wish to find a way back into the Christian community but I don't see how I can. I had to leave because my sibs and I were chronically abused by my preacher-father and no one in the church community would help us. I took my love for God with me when I went. After decades, I find that I am still in need of community but I come back only to find the group more rigid and narrow in their knowledge/hearts, not less. It makes me terribly sad and angry.

Oh, and by the way, in your desire to require everyone to toe the line of #2 Nonviolence Pledge, I assume you will also bring yankeegospelgirl to task. Hers is more socially acceptable in your circles, but was even more violently inappropriate than mine, and moreover, directed to an obvious outsider. Does not formal Christianity have a missional statement about bringing the love of Christ to all?

Nice to meet you, Matthew.

Matthew

April 25, 2012 at 11:47 AM

patricia,

First, small world of Dordt art grads. My late uncle, Gerald Folkerts was an art major there and did some beautiful work in the best of the Reformed tradition, with an eye to glorifying God aesthetically. But my parents both work at NWC ;-)

That said, the call in #2 directly above to refrain from violence of tongue seems to be lacking from your initial post. I don't assume to know your heart, but from a cursory reading it was hardly gracious.

Case in point "I thought Reformational theology could actually, you know, do that “ology” thing–study and think!! Instead of mourning the problems it’ll cause to the current structures (that work so well for you), maybe you could use your precious few extra IQ points to work out how our societies can ease down into a balance with the much reduced resources we have left."

You're obviously an articulate, passionate woman. These comments should foster heartfelt dialogue. But it should also be speaking the truth in love. For what it's worth, I sense more anger and bitterness in your posts than loving critique. That may not be your intent, but from this end, its what is coming across.

Grace and Peace,

Matthew

patricia

April 25, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Graham: Of course, that ongoing debate requires that we devote ourselves to love and truth, which are foundational aspects of God. There is a difference between obeying the social mores of a subculture and adhering to the broad principles of love/truth. While the former are not necessary (indeed often get in the way), the latter are imperative. There is a difference between taking it on the chin in an argument, and being trashed as a person. The foundations for a fruitful debate might be this pledge for nonviolence found at an Occupy site:

Pledge For Nonviolence
1. As you prepare for Occupy Wall Street, please open yourself to life, love and the blessings of faith, hope, and charity.
2. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart.
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for truth and love are the core of life, neither ambition nor the temptations of control.
4. Sacrifice personal wishes so that all might be free.
5. Observe with friends, with false friends and with your foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
6. Perform regular service for others and the world.
7. Pray or simply ask within to be moved so that all men and women might be free.
8. Remember that nonviolence seeks Justice and Reconciliation – not victory.
9. Strive to be in good spirits and in good health. We are the 99% and we must go in peace.

patricia

April 25, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Andrew: CRC schools in MI, Alberta, WA state. One year public school in Minnesota. Then undergrad at Dordt College, Iowa. MFA at Maryland Institute College of Art (Baltimore) then taught for years at a small arts college in Detroit.

Yankeegospelgirl: What is "enlightened leftie"? I am concerned about our human irresponsibility towards our selves and the plants/creatures that were given into our care. I am deeply disappointed that the leaders from my background have lost their ability to think beyond their backdoor, except for those few points that frighten them back into their house. Our theology explicates the depravity of the human heart--here is a prime example of that propensity to destructive selfishness.

You don't have to agree with my understanding, but integrity would offer a rationale rather than simply loudly apply a label that wipes my disagreement from your mind, as well as attempting to do the same in a public arena. Our God is love, and you are a gospelgirl. Right?

Robb: Yes. People do not understand the "hockey stick" format of population graphs, created by an amazing amount of change, very lovely good change! We need to understand this change in order to find a way forward. When we do not think outside of the common assumptions of our own generation, we run into trouble, such as above article. We were made to think beyond the narrow confines of our selves--when we do, it is obedience/gratitude to the God who made us so beautifully.

Graham: Yes, there is freedom of conscience. Additionally, what we each do affects all of us. So there is a balance, right? How/where/why we balance can make a wonderful ongoing debate. Not something to run from, but instead upbuilding, enriching, broadening, strengthening.

graham

April 24, 2012 at 03:56 PM

As an Ulsterman, I'm all for debate; we thrive on debate here. But guys, chill!
People don't like being told how many kids to have - I get it. But my guess is that Pastor de Young has been on the receiving end of a lecture or two.

We are allowed freedom of conscience on these issues. So how about letting each family make up its own mind? Just to see how that works out?

Robb

April 23, 2012 at 09:42 AM

I think one thing a lot of people don't realize is just how exceptional the last 100 years have been as far as population growth. For essentially all of human history, including even biblical times, even though the birth rate was fairly high (averaging about 5 children per woman), only about 2.1 of those children would survive to have children of their own. For example, of Abraham Lincoln's four children, only one of them survived to adulthood, with one dying while they lived in the White House. That is something that would be shocking today, yet was not unexpected back then.

It wasn't until the industrial revolution and subsequent medical advances that mortality rate for children dropped significantly. It was our grandparents and great grandparents that for the first time in history would raise an average of 5 children to adulthood.

The dropping fertility rate now, enabled through birth control and abortion, is sort of mimicking what disease, famine, and violence had done for the rest of human history prior to 1850, such that each family ends up with about two kids surviving to adulthood.

I'm not intending to judge the morality of declining fertility rates one way or another, just pointing out how truly exceptional that brief time period was when every family had five kids, and yet we often have this idea that the 1950s family is normal. Whether or not an average of five kids per family is good, it is very out of the ordinary when compared with the rest of history!

yankeegospelgirl

April 23, 2012 at 04:20 PM

Hi Patricia. I see you've bought into the myths of the environmental movement. Sorry to hear that you've become embarrassed with your Christian Reformed upbringing. Enjoy your new life as an enlightened leftie.

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/04/20/give-a-rip-have-a-kid/ Share this:ShareEmailFacebook [...]

Andrew

April 22, 2012 at 09:48 PM

...meaning public, private, home?

Andrew

April 22, 2012 at 09:47 PM

Patricia,

Where did you go to school growing up???

James M.

April 21, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Juan, the charge of having "too many" babies has long been a political hammer of those good citizens of the world who know better than the rest of us. It is hard to take seriously your reaction.

Justina, I wouldn't lose sleep over folks invoking political and economic motivations to procreate.

As to the basic point, do what you will with the political and social implications, but falling fertility rates are a reality, straight up. Runs contrary to the rhetoric we have been bombarded with regarding population "bombs" and "explosions" over the past several decades.

Rose

April 21, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Is "retiree" status a Biblical concept?

jw

April 21, 2012 at 08:23 AM

This sounds like complementarian/traditionalist propaganda to me. The reality is that you just need to google the stats and you will see that the countries with the highest fertility rates are the poorest third world countries out there. We might want to ask ourselves why. The more children you have the harder it is to clothe, feed, educate, and provide health care adequately for them all. It also limits the mother's ability to contribute to the improved financial situation of her family(which I think is the point of all the complementarian propaganda). Things are not as cut and dry as this article would make it to be; complex issues are involved. Also, the Bible does not tell us how many children to have and each family needs to use discernment and wisdom in light of their own particular needs. This kind of stuff is NOT helpful.

patricia

April 21, 2012 at 07:29 PM

We are far beyond "filling the earth"! Moreover, we're beyond "dominion" and into destroying the very "fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and every living thing that moves on the earth", to which we were called to be stewards, managers, cherishers.

I thought Reformational theology could actually, you know, do that "ology" thing--study and think!! Instead of mourning the problems it'll cause to the current structures (that work so well for you), maybe you could use your precious few extra IQ points to work out how our societies can ease down into a balance with the much reduced resources we have left.

This is the same shtick as economists calling for endless market growth or everything will collapse.

I was brought up Christian Reformed, daughter of a pastor. I am now thoroughly embarrassed.

Michael B.

April 21, 2012 at 02:52 PM

@Michael
"Michael B. that increase is due to immigration, both legal and illegal. "

A 50% increase in the population is due to immigration?! Wow!

(And suppose that were the case -- then the US would still have no problem with a declining population. )

Mark

April 20, 2012 at 11:37 AM

I'm all about having kids--my wife and I have four presently. But Last's article is fraught with very sketchy claims and some poor definitions--I won't go into all of them, but one that caught my eye immediately, cited by Kevin above, is "As fertility falls, populations shrink." That claim is not true--if the total fertility rate (number of children born per woman) stays above about 2.1 kids (called the replacement rate), population will not shrink, but continue to rise. There is a very strong correlation between countries with the highest fertility rates and extreme poverty--if you Google "fertility rate" you'll find some great explanations and statistics that explain basic demographics.

Tim H.

April 20, 2012 at 10:30 AM

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Outbreed 'Em

Michael

April 20, 2012 at 09:21 AM

Michael B. that increase is due to immigration, both legal and illegal. And the demographic winter is no respecter of skin color, as it's happening in almost every country. Children are no longer considered a blessing and birth control is way overused.

Pete Scribner

April 20, 2012 at 09:19 AM

While we certainly have a responsibility (and hopefully a desire!) to evangelize, I have long felt that perhaps the simplest and most biblical "church growth strategy" can be summed up in Genesis 1:28a and Ephesians 6:4.

Michael B.

April 20, 2012 at 07:59 AM

According to the census, the nation's population is projected to increase to 392 million by 2050 -- more than a 50 percent increase from the 1990 population size. (http://www.census.gov/population/www/pop-profile/natproj.html) When you hear people talking about a demographic winter and that people aren't having enough babies, it's thinly coded language that people aren't having enough white babies.

Michael

April 20, 2012 at 07:02 PM

Here's a good documentary on the subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxUD8E-qbyI

Juan

April 20, 2012 at 05:35 PM

I completely agree with Justina. Our society is so politically divided right no that even having babies has become a matter or politics. "'Good patriotic Christian Ameticans" have babies", we are told, "it is those "sinful evil liberals" who refuse to have babies who are ruining our God given natio "

Justina

April 20, 2012 at 03:29 PM

While I understand and believe in the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply, I am weary of using political and economic motivations as reasons to procreate. I guess I'll have to read the book, but my first intuition is that Last is making some assumptions I just can't buy.

Pete Scribner

April 20, 2012 at 02:44 PM

Dean: Absolutely agreed...thus the first clause of my comment!

Dean P

April 20, 2012 at 02:37 PM

Pete: Be careful it goes both ways as Dr, Williams said at Covenant, often times the only evangelism reformed evangelicals do is the evangelism that we do between the bedposts.