"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The liberal baby bust

"Suicide, however popular, cannot remain a growth industry." So says the redoubtable Diogenes, reacting favorably to Philip Longman's book The Empty Cradle (Basic, 2004), which has strongly shaped my thinking given that none of his negative reviewers gainsay his methodology. To me, Longman's most relevant point is the one Diogenes quotes:
It's a pattern found throughout the world, and it augurs a far more conservative future -- one in which patriarchy and other traditional values make a comeback, if only by default. Childlessness and small families are increasingly the norm today among progressive secularists. As a consequence, an increasing share of all children born into the world are descended from a share of the population whose conservative values have led them to raise large families. Today, fertility correlates strongly with a wide range of political, cultural and religious attitudes. In the USA, for example, 47% of people who attend church weekly say their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, 27% of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.
Though not yet conventional wisdom, such observations soon will be. What's so delicious about Longman's thesis is that it poses an insoluble dilemma for "progressive secularists": cease to be what they are, or cease to be at all. They cannot procreate enough to replace themselves without abandoning their ideology, but retaining it will ensure that the future falls largely into the hands of those whose views they abhor. At that point, their suicide will cease to be a growth industry because—well, suicide tends to eliminate its own market.

The delicacy is only enhanced when served up to an ecclesial audience. Even the progs are starting to worry. (Hat tip to Gerald Augustinus.) I've sometimes wondered why Rome doesn't just excommunicate the most prominent clerical progs, and sternly inform their mostly lay fellow-travelers that they receive the Eucharist to their own condemnation if they do so while proudly living lives contrary to the moral teaching of the Church. We could at least end the massive sham of "conscience" that has been erected on the clergy's refusal, from the top down, to require assent to Church teaching on birth control. But I think I know now why Rome doesn't end the sham that way: in due course, it will end itself regardless of what anybody thinks. Progs of post-Vatican-II vintage don't produce many babies or vocations. They will just recede, gradually but ineluctably, into memory. Why raise the huge ruckus that would ensue on excommunicating them when they will just quietly eliminate themselves?

The process of demographic suicide is already well advanced among liberal religious orders. It will take longer with the laity, who are of course far more numerous to start with. But it will happen with them too, and they will be replaced by real Catholics. All everybody has to do is be themselves.

I love it.
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