Will The Modernists Inherit The Earth? The Dismal Prospects for Secular Liberalism

Everywhere one looks today in the West, it appears that proponents of secular liberalism are celebrating another social victory lap. So-called same-sex marriage, over 50 self-identifying gender options on Facebook, lawsuits against Christian bakers and florists, ‘gender neutral’ public restroom laws, abortion on demand, collectively constitute a daily reminder that our world is changing in ways unimaginable just a few decades back. It’s no wonder that many believe that leftist progressivism is the wave of the future. In the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, the winner, Conchita Wurst, a bearded transvestite, boldly proclaimed: “This night is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are! We are unity and we are unstoppable!”

Against such a cultural backdrop, many conservatives feel hopeless. In his farewell speech to the Focus on the Family staff, James Dobson defeatedly admitted: “We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action. … We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.” And Rod Dreher laments: “The light of Christianity is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization.”

While fully acknowledging the disappointments and challenges that have engendered such dire prognostications, I believe these rather distressing predictions are contradicted by an astonishing backlash currently underway throughout the West that indicates not a defeat, but a renewal; not a death, but a rebirth. I want to argue that we are actually seeing nothing less than a conservative Christian resurgence in our demographics and politics that promises not the suicide but rather the salvation of the West.

According to University of London scholar Eric Kaufmann’s detailed study on global demographic trends, we are in the early stages of nothing less than a demographic revolution. In Kaufmann’s words, “religious fundamentalists are on course to take over the world.” There is a significant demographic deficit between secularists and conservative religionists. For example, in the U.S., while self-identified non-religionist women averaged only 1.5 children per couple in 2002, conservative evangelical women averaged 2.5 children, representing a 28 percent fertility edge. Kaufmann notes that this demographic deficit has dramatic effects over time. In a population evenly divided, these numbers indicate that conservative evangelicals would increase from 50 to 62.5 percent of the population in a single generation. In two generations, their number would increase to 73.5 percent, and over the course of 200 years, they would represent 99.4 percent. The Amish and Mormons provide contemporary illustrations of the compound effect of endogamous growth. The Amish double in population every twenty years, and projections have the Amish numbering over a million in the U.S. and Canada in just a few decades. Since 1830, Mormon growth has averaged 40 percent per decade, which means that by 2080, there may be as many as 267 million Mormons in the world, making them by 2100 anywhere from one to six percent of the world’s population.

In Europe, immigration is making the continent more religiously conservative, not less; in fact, London and Paris are some of the most religiously dense areas within their respective populations. In Britain, for example, Ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jews constitute only 17 percent of the Jewish population but account for 75 percent of Jewish births. And in Israel, Haredi schoolchildren have gone from comprising a few percent to nearly a third of all Jewish pupils in a matter of five decades, and are poised to represent the majority of the Jewish population by 2050. Since 1970, charismatic Christians in Europe have expanded steadily at a rate of 4 percent per year, in step with Muslim growth. Currently, Laestadian Lutherans in Finland and Holland’s Orthodox Calvinists have a fertility advantage over their wider secular populations of 4:1 and 2:1 respectively.

In contrast, Kaufmann’s data projects that secularists, who consistently exemplify a low fertility rate of around 1.5 (significantly below the replacement level of 2.1), will begin a steady decline after 2030 to a mere 14 to 15 percent of the American population. Similar projections apply to Europe as well. Kaufmann thus appears to have identified what he calls “the soft underbelly of secularism,” namely, demography. This is because secular liberalism entails its own “demographic contradiction,” the affirmation of the sovereign individual devoid of the restraints of classical moral structures necessitates the freedom not to reproduce. The link between sex and procreation having been broken, modernist reproduction translates into mere personal preference. It thus turns out that the radical individualism so celebrated and revered by contemporary secular propagandists is in fact the agent by which their ideology implodes.

Now some may think that this demographic deficit can be compensated for with mass conversions, enticing the children of religious conservatives to break away and join the ranks of the secular. However, this is highly unlikely. The more conservative and vibrant the religious commitment, the more incentives there are for the next generations to remain faithful and concomitantly strong disincentives to leave. With clearly delineated social boundaries and identity markers, conservative endogamous groups are generally very difficult to break up. And Kaufmann’s data suggests that the more conservative the group, the greater the demographic discrepancy as compared with secularist procreation.

Such statistics coalesce with the current population growth in the non-Western world. Indeed, while the West, including Russia and Eastern Europe, comprised 35 percent of the global population at the turn of the last century, it has fallen to 17 percent today and will most likely dwindle further to a mere 10 percent by 2050. And what needs to be understood is that this growing non-Western world asserts its classical religiosity as an indispensable mechanism of social boundary and resistance against what is perceived as the ‘westoxification’ of globalism. In recent years, the West has actually begun to split along the lines of this emerging global culture war. There has been a self-conscious distancing from the West by Russia, drawing inspiration instead from a resurgent neo-Byzantium, what U.S. Naval War College professor John R. Schindler calls a “Third Rome” ideology, which involves “a powerful admixture of Orthodoxy, ethnic mysticism, and Slavophile tendencies that has deep resonance in Russian history.” Along with India, Islamic and African nations, Russia has publicly and legislatively rejected what they consider the civilizational suicide of LGBT activism and feminism. Even many Eastern-European countries that feel threatened by Russia’s recent militarism, such as Georgia and Moldova, consider Western secular values far more threatening.

Moreover, the Western academy appears to have forecasted a gradual turning away from secularism with the advent of so-called ‘post-secular studies.’ It has become increasingly evident that secularism represents a value system that is necessarily constituted by religious processes such as sacred myths, rituals, and theologized law systems, thus undermining its central claim to religious neutrality. In short, post-modernism is morphing into post-secularism: not only are religions resiliently adapting and rearranging themselves in response to secular norms, but the norms themselves are gradually losing their plausibility. The one value system that prohibits the imposition of one’s value systems on others cannot long maintain its monopolization over the public square.

And so, the rhetoric of the secular modernist predicting the inexorable global triumph of the sovereign individual seems little more than a chimera, a pipe dream that is itself the product of self-centered aspirations and ambitions. Since social movements do generally play themselves out, we should expect the next few decades to be characterized by an unprecedented period of cultural degeneration in the West. But at the same time, demographic, global, and academic trends suggest that the dominance of secular liberalism is in fact on the verge of collapse. It does appear that religious conservatives, not secular liberals, will inherent the world after all.