Those of us who live and work in Europe have a front row seat at a demographic meltdown. The demographic crisis plaguing much of the modern world is most advanced in Europe and most lamented here.
Today European schools don’t have enough children. Tomorrow European economies won’t have enough workers. Everybody is talking about it.
In Hungary, where I live, the birth rate is at its lowest since World War II and shows no sign of recovery. Hungarians are waiting longer to marry, if they marry at all. Couples are waiting longer to have children and, if they decide to have children, they choose to have few. In Europe, a family with three children is an object of interest and a family of five children is a veritable wonder.
Various European governments have tried to address the problem in recent years, recognizing the profound implications that this demographic decline has both for their economic future and for European culture. Governments have provided tax incentives, generous maternity leave and exhortations — all to little effect. Europeans are deciding against babies, despite subsidies and advantages offered by government.
It is no longer just northern Europe that is below replacement (2.1 children per woman). Spain and Italy are near the bottom of the demographic pile when it comes to reproducing themselves (at about 1.2 births per woman) and Russia is in a demographic slump so deep, that pessimists argue for a halving of her population by 2050.
The demographic decline of the west has various causal factors but many scholars note a religious factor correlating with fertility. These writers acknowledge that religious people tend to have more children than the non-religious. The United States, for example, the most religiously observant country in the modern industrialized world, alone among modern industrialized nations, has a birth rate that is at, or near, replacement. Further study within the United States reinforces the correlation between religious observance and fertility. Religiously observant Americans are, on average, more fertile than non-religious Americans.
Most of us know by simple observation that religious people tend to have more children than the non-religious. We see the correlation daily between religious observance and fertility in our neighborhoods, schools and churches. Somehow, religious communities have preserved a friendlier attitude toward children and a more positive environment for raising them, than the mostly non-religious modern world.
Thankfully, I was raised in a religiously-observant child-friendly sub-culture called Evangelicalism. That Evangelical sub-culture partly explains why my wife and I have three children and why we have experienced the sadness of five miscarriages while trying to have even more. Although I cannot recall even one sermon focusing on the blessing of children or on the Christian responsibility to procreate, I picked up something positive about children from osmosis within the churches that I attended and from the atmosphere in my own home.
Today the slow moving demographic emergency is Page 1 news and we must do more with our inherited Scriptural message regarding children than we have done in the past. Values imbibed through osmosis and atmosphere may have been sufficient in the past but we can do better — and we must. In today’s world we must make our Christian pro-child/pro-natalist message more explicit.
Evangelicals have done relatively well without explicit pro-child/pro-natalist teaching but we would do far better if the Biblical message about children was taught in our Sunday Schools, sermons, Bible studies, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries. High school youth leaders should ask the young men in their charges, “What are you doing to prepare yourself for fatherhood — one of the most important roles you will ever assume?”
Pastors who counsel couples prior to marriage should refer them to scriptures such as Jeremiah 29.4-6 and exhort them to have children and increase in number. Young couples who earnestly want to please God should approach the subject of children with a sense of purpose and hope.
Anyone who attends church over a period of time should hear at least one pro-child/pro-natalist message explicitly exhorting the faithful to have, love and raise God-fearing children if they are able. Those who are unable to have children, or who feel called by God to remain celibate, are equal contributors to a community that values it’s young as it’s future. The Bible is a pro-child book from Genesis to Revelation and silence on this subject is a serious omission.
An explicitly pro-child message would be a powerful thing in the toxic anti-child environment that is the modern world. The demands placed on parents by children have always interfered with personal egoism, but only in recent history have humans figured out how to enjoy sexuality while painlessly choosing against children. The choice is made possible by various technologies that allow modern people to separate sexuality from reproduction. This relatively new ability to disconnect things that ought to be connected, is the reason that modern Christians must be more explicitly pro-child than our parents or grandparents were. In our parents’ day, children came in the natural course of things. In our day, we must choose them. Where there is choice, there must be teaching. The lack of explicitly pro-child teaching in our churches is evidence that we are about one generation behind the demands that the Gospel makes on us for our time.
Perhaps into the demographic vacuum created by modern anti-values something better will come. It is not unreasonable to hope that believing Christians, people susceptible to Biblical instruction, could be the front end of a wedge of re-population in the demographically dying west. Our believing communities can show the world a radical alternative to the selfish materialism that is killing our culture today and our civilization tomorrow. Where governments have failed to convince or incentivize citizens, believing Christians can demonstrate that children are a gift from the Lord, that the righteous man has many of them, that marriage, in the natural course of things, should produce offspring. In this we will not only affirm the future, but perhaps also capture some of it for our Creator.
“Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.”—Jeremiah 29.6